- Bangladesh - hostages - mutiny
AFP - Fifty Bangladeshi army officers are feared dead after thousands of border guards staged a mutiny over pay, sparking fierce gun battles and spreading panic through the capital, a minister said Thursday.
Weeping women and children began emerging from the compound in downtown Dhaka early Thursday after the rebels surrendered their weapons following an amnesty offer from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, ending their 18-hour siege.
But deputy law minister Kamrul Islam said 50 army officers who had been held hostage in the headquarters of the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) were feared dead.
"We talked to the BDR troops and they said some 50 officers have been killed," he said, adding he could not confirm the deaths as he had not seen the bodies.
"We heard that the casualties were kept at a hospital inside the compound," he added.
Five people have already been confirmed dead, among them two senior army officers whose bodies were found dumped in a drain outside the barracks.
The military had said the rebels were holding at least 100 hostages inside the compound. Television footage showed about 30 women and children being driven from the building, where they reportedly spent the siege holed up in bathrooms.
The mutiny began early Wednesday when rank-and-file BDR soldiers took up arms against their superiors.
Officials said tensions in the force had been simmering for months but exploded into violence when senior officers dismissed appeals for more pay, subsidised food and holidays.
The violence spread panic through the capital, sparking gun battles that left more than 40 people wounded, according to police and medical officials.
Sheikh Hasina held emergency talks with the rebels late Wednesday, offering an amnesty and agreeing to consider their demands.
Home Minister Sahara Khatun entered the BDR headquarters shortly after midnight accompanied by the national police chief to oversee the surrender of arms.
"I have assured the BDR members that there will be no attack by army men. The prime minister has granted a general amnesty to them and they should not fear any reprisals," Khatun said, according to state-run BTV.
Thousands of police and troops with heavy arms had been deployed outside the headquarters of the BDR, and hundreds of Bangladesh University students were evacuated from their nearby dormitories.
The mutiny was the biggest challenge for Sheikh Hasina since she took office less than two months ago after a landslide election victory that ended two years of army-backed rule.
The stand-off highlighted the frustrations felt by many Bangladeshis faced with high food prices, a sluggish economy and rampant corruption within the country's ruling classes.
Since winning independence from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh has had a history of political violence, coups and counter-coups.
The poor country was run by military dictator Hussain Mohammad Ershad from 1982 to 1990, before democracy was restored in 1991.
In January 2007, the army again stepped in, cancelling elections and declaring a state of emergency following months of political unrest. Democracy was restored with elections last December.