Dhaka: A fierce gun battle broke out Wednesday inside the headquarters of Bangladesh’s border security force in the capital Dhaka after a mutiny by soldiers against their officers, officials said.
At least one bystander was killed and eight others wounded, medical sources said, as police and regular troops ringed the headquarters of the Bangladesh Rifles.
“There has been a huge exchange of gunfire at BDR (Bangladesh Rifles) headquarters complex this morning,” local police chief Nabojit Khisa said.
Smoke could be seen coming from the complex, with security forces sealing off the area.
“The army has been called in. They have already started moving to the area,” said Colonel Rezaur Rahman, the deputy chief of Bangladesh’s elite internal security force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB).
“RAB officers have also circled the whole compound... Gunfire can be heard from inside.”
Official sources told AFP that the mutiny broke out while senior officers were meeting at the Bangladesh Rifles’ headquarters, which is home to 3,000 to 4,000 troops in Dhaka’s Pilkhana area.
But they stressed that the mutiny was the result of a problem within the security force, including demands for higher pay and subsidised food, and was not an attempted coup d’etat.
“It seems to be a mutiny of BDR (paramilitary) troops” against their regular army officers, an armed forces spokesman said, adding the troops had even “fired at army helicopters hovering over their barracks.”
In a statement, the Bangladeshi army called on the renegade BDR troops to “surrender arms and go back to the barracks.”
“The honourable prime minister (Sheikh Hasina) will herself talk to you about your demand. Any soldiers who fail to give up arms after this announcement will be prosecuted,” the statement added.
According to local media, BDR troops are demanding better payment, more subsidised food and more holidays. Reports said the BDR chief, Major General Shakil Ahmed, refused to listen to the demands, prompting the armed revolt.
Several television channels said the BDR chief was injured in the attack, but no official confirmation was available.
The head nurse at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, Khademul Islam, said all but one of the casualties were civilian bystanders caught in the crossfire on the streets of the capital.
“At least one person has died and eight were injured, including a BDR soldier, all hit by bullets in the BDR gunfight. The deceased is a rickshaw puller,” Islam said.
Since winning independence from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh has had a history of political violence, coups and counter-coups.
The grindingly poor country was run by military dictator Hussain Mohammad Ershad from 1982 to 1990, before democracy was restored in 1991.
The army again stepped in in January 2007, cancelling elections and declaring a state of emergency following months of political unrest. Democracy was restored with elections last December.