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Officers' mass grave found after Dhaka mutiny

A mass grave of at least 38 murdered officers of the Bangladesh Rifles was found on Friday after the surrender of mutineer soldiers. Another 28 bodies had already been found, with nearly 200 fleeing soldiers arrested.


AFP - Security forces in Bangladesh on Friday uncovered at least 38 bodies of murdered army officers in one grave as the death toll following a deadly mutiny in the capital rose.

Soldiers and sniffer dogs scoured the grounds of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) compound in the capital Dhaka and dug up 38 bodies in one grave, rescue team chief Sheikh Mizanur Rahman said.

"At least 15 bodies can be seen. We need special equipment to get them out because they are badly decomposed," he said.

A joint funeral was to be held once all bodies had been recovered, and a national day of mourning on Sunday was also announced.

Another 28 bodies had already been found, including some that had been pulled from sewers and manholes.

The fate of around 100 army officers taken hostage by the mutineering guards remained unclear, however, after the rank-and-file troops surrendered and returned to barracks late Thursday.

"We have arrested more than 200 Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) troops who fled their barracks in civilian dress. We were given orders to arrest the fleeing mutineers," a spokesman for the Rapid Action Battalion, Commander Abul Kalam Azad, told AFP.

He said checkpoints had been set up at all routes leading out of the capital Dhaka and surrounding the BDR barracks, with four suspected mutineers arrested in the northern city of Bogra.

"We are searching buses and trucks for any other rebel troops," he added.

The BDR guards, who were demanding better pay and conditions, surrendered after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina warned they were on a "suicidal" path that could end only in bloodshed.

The premier visited some of the victims -- both military personnel and their families -- in hospital Friday and warned that those responsible for the deaths and injuries would face serious consequences.

Despite promising an amnesty a day earlier for troops who surrendered, she said those who had killed would not get off lightly.

"These senior military personnel have been killed in a planned and calculated manner. It's a grisly slaughter. We will punish these criminals," cabinet minister Jahangir Kabir Nanak told reporters.

As calm returned Friday to Dhaka, one regular army officer held hostage by the guards told AFP of his escape as his captors opened fire indiscriminately.

"It was cold-blooded murder," Syed M. Kamruzzaman said, adding that BDR chief Major General Shakil Ahmed was gunned down in front of him. Officials would not confirm Ahmed's death.

"They hurled abuse at us and gunned down whoever they wanted. I was shot at seven times and was lucky to get out alive."

Tensions in the BDR had been simmering for months but erupted into violence early Wednesday when senior officers rejected appeals for more pay, subsidised food and holidays.

It then petered out, however, after Sheikh Hasina -- who took office only two months ago, although she had served as premier once before -- appeared on national television and threatened to put down the mutiny by force.

The violence was the first major crisis she has faced since her landslide election victory on December 29 ended two years of army-backed rule.

Manzoor Hasan, the director of BRAC University's Institute of Governance Studies in Dhaka, told AFP there were a "few worrying hours" where the prime minister appeared to be losing control.

"It was a bit of a baptism by fire for her. It was a critical test but I think in the end she tackled it competently," he said.

The revolt has highlighted the frustrations felt by many in impoverished Bangladesh, which has been hit by high food prices, a slowing economy and rampant corruption.

Bangladesh has had a history of political violence, coups and counter-coups since winning independence from Pakistan in 1971.

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