Border guard mutiny over, says Bangladesh government

The Bangladesh government said Thursday that mutinous border guards who seized control of their headquarters Wednesday have surrendered.

The Bangladesh government said Thursday that mutinous border guards who seized control of their headquarters in a deadly revolt Wednesday have surrendered.

At least 11 people were killed when border guards revolted at the agency's headquarters in Dhaka for more than 20 hours Wednesday to demand better pay but agreed later to surrender when the government said it would grant them amnesty and discuss their grievances.

The process stalled and was only completed Thursday after the government sent tanks into the capital in a show of force.

"All the mutinous border guards have surrendered their weapons," government negotiator Mahbub Ara Gini said Thursday.

Nearly 2,000 guards opened fire on their senior officers and seized their headquarters Wednesday to protest poor pay and conditions. The 11 people killed included three civilians.

Officials were still searching for bodies and feared as many as 50 people may have been killed during the revolt.

Bangladesh Home Minister Shahara Khatun received about a dozen automatic rifles from surrendering mutineers at the Dhaka headquarters of Bangladesh Rifles — the official name of the paramilitary border guards.

TV reports showed guards filing out of buildings in the compound and laying down arms, one by one.

The government sent several more ministers to the compound to oversee the surrender, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called an emergency meeting of her cabinet to discuss the situation, her spokesman, Abul Kalam Azad, said.

The home minister also oversaw the earlier evacuation of about 50 women and children trapped in homes inside the compound since the revolt erupted early Wednesday. They were mostly family members of officers attacked during the mutiny.

The guards also seized a nearby shopping mall.

Shootings reported in other cities

Media reports indicated the uprising of the paramilitary group spread to other cities, with shootings in Feni, Satkania, Dinaipus and Naogaon on Thursday, according to police.

There were no media reports of death or injuries in those shootings, according to officials who spoke to Reuters.

The standoffs are a result of longtime frustrations that pay for the border guards didn't keep pace with that of the army, exacerbated by rising food prices in the chronically poor South Asian country as the global economic crisis grows.

Border guards reached by phone during Wednesday's standoff said they were upset that their officers had not mentioned their demands when Hasina visited their headquarters on Tuesday.

One guard in combat dress, his face covered in a yellow handkerchief, emerged from the compound and told television reporters that the army had "more facilities than what we get."

"Army troops are sent abroad to work in UN peacekeeping missions and they get fat salaries," he said. "But they don't take border guard personnel for peacekeeping. That's discrimination."

For several hours, intermittent gunshots rang out at the headquarters. Smoke billowed. Soldiers shut down area streets as helicopters circled.

Hasina then met and reached a deal with representatives of the mutineers, and the fighting subsided.

Children trapped in the compound, aged between five and 16, were allowed to leave unharmed.

"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," mutineer spokesman Mohammed Towhid said Wednesday.

Guards rely on government rations of rice, flour and sugar to supplement their incomes of about $100 US per month.

The guards get the rations for just three months, but regular soldiers receive rations all year, and food prices have risen some 30 per cent in recent months.