Authorities in Bangladesh yesterday urged mutineers within the country’s splintered military to lay down their arms as a deadline approached to end a violent confrontation between paramilitary soldiers and commanders that left at least 50 people dead, officials said.
“The rebel troopers agreed to surrender their weapons by 2pm,” Sheikh Fazle Noor Tapas, a lawmaker of the ruling Awami League, told reporters after negotiations with the rebel soldiers near their headquarters in central Dhaka.
The paramilitary border troops, known as the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), began surrendering their weapons early yesterday after a 19-hour standoff, but some of the troops refused to lay down their arms, fearing retaliation from the regular army troops, against whom they fought pitched battles on Wednesday.
A fresh round of talks began in the morning to persuade the rebels, who were given general amnesty by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed, to lay down their arms for a peaceful end to the mutiny.
Emergency meetings of the council of ministers and the senior leaders of the Awami League-led ruling alliance reviewed the latest situation, calling upon all sides to show restraint.
Prime Minister Hasina, who was meeting yesterday with the chiefs of the army, navy and the air force, was scheduled to deliver an address to the nation later in the day.
Meanwhile, media reports from outside the capital said BDR troops opened fire in several other camps in the northern districts of Rajshahi and Dinajpur, the southwestern district of Jessore and the southeastern district of Chittagong, but no casualties were reported.
The soldiers’ mutiny began on Wednesday morning at an annual meeting to allow soldier to air their grievances to their officers, sources inside the headquarters said.
But the enlisted men, enraged over a pay dispute and alleged repression and corruption by the commanders of the 67,000-strong force, took the officers hostage.
Several hundred mutineers then took control of artillery pieces and other heavy weapons inside the 2.6km2 compound, located in a densely populated residential area.
“The troopers started surrendering arms to the armory, and we hope the process will be concluded by Thursday morning,” Quamrul Islam, state minister for law, justice and parliamentary affairs, told reporters outside the headquarters around 4am yesterday.
The death toll was expected to be around 50, most of them military officers. But many of the bodies remained inside the complex, Islam said, making an exact casualty count difficult.
The prime minister had announced a general amnesty for the mutinous troops on Wednesday evening as the soldiers agreed to surrender arms and return to their barracks. The announcement came after hours of tense negotiations that included a meeting with a delegation of 14 rebels at the prime minister’s official Jamuna residence.
Several efforts to end the standoff failed as the rebels demanded the removal of some officers and gunfire continued overnight.
The International Red Crescent organization earlier evacuated as many as 20 troopers who had suffered gunshot wounds from inside the compound.
As many as 15,000 soldiers took part in the rebellion. The condition of many senior officers, including BDR chief Major General Shakil Ahmed, was not known.
Earlier, Home Minister Sahara Khatun negotiated the release of officers’ families, who were stranded inside the military complex. State-run Bangladeshi television broadcast the departure of the relatives, mostly women and children, who appeared frightened as they boarded vehicles to whisk them from the scene.