Sun, Mar 01, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Mass grave found in Bangladesh

TEST A recent two-day revolt ended in a test of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ability to handle the military. The army chief said the military will stand by the government


Firefighters yesterday resumed their search of the headquarters compound of Bangladesh’s border guards after uncovering the grisly results of the force’s two-day mutiny — dozens of senior officers massacred, their bodies hurriedly dumped into shallow graves and sewers.

Nine more bodies were dug up in two mass graves, according to firefighter Sheikh Mohammad Shahjalal, bringing the official death toll to 75. Among the dead was Major General Shakil Ahmed, the commander of the guards.

Dozens more officers were missing.

“We think there are more bodies,” Shahjalal said.

While newly elected Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ended the revolt in two days, persuading the mutinous guards to surrender through promises of amnesty coupled with threats of military force, the insurrection raised new questions about stability in this poor South Asian nation.

She said on Friday that there would be no amnesty for the killers.

And Dhaka’s largest newspaper, the Daily Star, lauded Hasina in an editorial for “sagacious handling of the situation which resulted in the prevention of a further bloodbath.”

But the bloodshed underlined the fragile relationship between Bangladesh’s civilian leaders and the military, which has stepped in previously to quell what the generals considered dangerous political instability. The country only returned to democracy in January, two years after the army ousted the previous government amid rioting over disputed election results.

Hasina has a bitter history with the military. She is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s independence leader and its first head of state — from 1971 until a 1975 military coup killed him, Hasina’s mother and three brothers.

The government instructed senior military officials to take steps to mollify soldiers angry at the country’s army chief for prohibiting them from launching an assault on the border guards.

The rebellion in the Bangladesh Rifles border force paralyzed the capital and unsettled this nation of 150 million people.

“It’s a setback for Sheikh Hasina’s new government. It’s now a test for her how she handles the military,” political analyst Ataur Rahman said. “This tragic event will force her to divert her attention from consolidating democracy and boosting the economy to tackling the challenges of national security.”

The army chief, General Moeen Ahmed, met with Hasina at her home in Dhaka late on Friday, apparently to discuss the situation.

“It’s a national crisis,” Ahmed told reporters. “The military will stand by the government.”

His statement followed another by Lieutenant General Mohammad Abdul Mubin, principal staff officer of the military, late on Friday that the government would include representatives from the military on a committee investigating the mutiny so that the army’s concerns are not excluded from the process. A special tribunal will try those responsible for the massacre.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for calm and the resolution of the situation without further violence.

US deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said Ban on Friday condemned brutal acts of violence and extended his deepest sympathy to the victims, to their families and to the people and the government of Bangladesh.

Late on Friday, the US and the UK extended their support to the efforts of Hasina to handle the crisis.

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