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Bangladesh Rifles mutineers to surrender, given amnesty

Bangladesh Rifles mutineers to surrender, given amnesty
AP
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First Published: Thu, Feb 26 2009. 12 47 AM IST

Laying siege: Bangladesh army soldiers take up positions near the Bangladesh Rifles headquarters in Dhaka on Wednesday. Zia Islam / AP
Laying siege: Bangladesh army soldiers take up positions near the Bangladesh Rifles headquarters in Dhaka on Wednesday. Zia Islam / AP
Updated: Thu, Feb 26 2009. 12 47 AM IST
Dhaka: Mutinous Bangladeshi border guards who stormed their headquarters and opened fire on their superior officers agreed to surrender on Wednesday after the government said it would grant them amnesty.
The guards, angry over their pay, seized their headquarters and a nearby shopping mall, killing one person and trapping dozens of children in their school on the compound. The army was called in to quell the unrest.
Laying siege: Bangladesh army soldiers take up positions near the Bangladesh Rifles headquarters in Dhaka on Wednesday. Zia Islam / AP
After the agreement was reached at a meeting between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and representatives of the Bangladesh Rifles, the official name of the paramilitary border guards, the fighting subsided and the children were able to leave.
“The prime minister has announced amnesty for those involved in the trouble. We now hope to lay down our arms and go back to barracks,” Mohammed Towhid, a spokesman for the mutineers, told reporters after the meeting.
Government spokesman Jahangir Kabir Nanak confirmed that the guards had been offered amnesty.
For at least four hours, intermittent gunshots rang out at the headquarters, while smoke billowed from the compound.
A rickshaw puller, who was shot outside the compound, died at state-run Dhaka Medical College Hospital, doctors said. Three bystanders and one border guard were being treated at the hospital for wounds, doctors said on condition of anonymity, citing protocol.
Guards reached inside the compound by the phone said they were upset that their officers had not raised their demands for equal pay and working conditions as army soldiers when Hasina visited the headquarters the day before.
It was not immediately clear if the government would agree to all of their demands, which included more food rations and a chance to participate in lucrative, high-paying United Nations peacekeeping missions.
Bangladesh, an impoverished nation of 150 million people, has a history of military coups and political assassinations. Two of the South Asian nation’s presidents have been slain in military take-overs, and there have been 19 failed coup attempts since the country gained independence from Pakistan in 1971.
During the siege hundreds of anxious relatives of the students gathered near the compound, waiting for news. Amid the confusion it was not immediately clear if the students were being held hostage.
“I’m so worried about my son,” said Monira Khatoon, mother of a 10-year-old boy stranded inside the school. “I pray no harm will be done.”
Television footage recorded from nearby rooftops showed some border guards with rifles moving around inside the compound. Army soldiers had their guns trained on the four gates leading to the compound.
Ilias Ahmed, who lives in an apartment building just outside the border guards’ compound, said he saw vehicles burning inside.
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First Published: Thu, Feb 26 2009. 12 47 AM IST