Monday, March 02, 2009

Turmoil in Bangladesh after Border Guards kill their own officers

The last week has seen a major upheaval in Bangladesh, that too just a couple of months after the long-awaited transition back to civilian rule. After years of army rule, finally elections were held, and Sheikh Hasina won comfortably over her rival Begum Khaleda Zia. However, it was expected that since the powerful army did not like either Sheikh Hasina or Begum Zia (holding them to be corrupt, and essentially not good rulers), Sheikh Hasina would have to contend with a powerful force not fully under her control.
However, it was difficult to believe the events of the past week. In Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) has always been seen as having a much lower status than the army. This includes having its officers drawn from the army (including the head of the BDR). Also, being a paramilitary, it has been seen as having a much lower status than the regular army, and seemingly less monetary benefits (including lower pay, no chance to go for higher paying United Nations missions abroad, and so on). At some point, when the Border Guards were having a conference, a group of Border Guards were looking to have a discussion with their officers (on deputation from the army), and the discussion did not go at all well.
Reports indicate that the group of Border Guards grouped the officers together, and then shot most of them (and bayonetted many of them after shooting them). This was certainly not something that their officers would have expected to happen to them in any way; the end result is a cleanup of the officers of the Border Guards. After killing many of the officers (and in many cases, their families who were staying in the headquarters of the Border Guards), the dead were quickly put in mass graves or floated down sewers. The decimation was complete, with the top leadership of the Guards gone, and almost 130-140 officers killed over a period of 1-2 days (link):

The Bangladesh army has launched a manhunt for border guards who mutinied at their headquarters in Dhaka last week, killing about 140 army officers. The government issued arrest warrants for "1,000 guardsmen and accomplices". The mutiny by the Bangladesh Rifles apparently began as a row over pay.
The charges include conspiracy to kill officers and civilians, using weapons and explosives, creating panic, looting and trying to hide bodies.
The BBC's Mark Dummett, in Dhaka, says the fugitive border guards can expect little mercy from the army, which has now been ordered to fan out across Bangladesh to apprehend them. About 180 officers were present at the BDR annual meeting when the mutiny broke out - only 33 are known to have survived. The bodies of 70 officers have been discovered so far, many of them mutilated after being shot.

No army in the world would take such an incident lightly, and certainly not in countries where the army believes that it is one of the influential sections in the country. It would have been a test for the newly elected Prime Minister to hold back an army that must have straining at the leash to attack the border guards who killed so many of their officers. However, if that had happened, it would have undermined the civilian leadership, and led to a huge amount of bloodshed without the chance of a formal trial.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:09 AM