- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 28, 2009

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh’s military said 72 officers were still missing Saturday after a two-day mutiny by border guards in which at least 76 people died. The government pledged a full investigation as it swiftly moved to restore confidence and reassert control.

Firefighters were still searching shallow graves and sewers at the border guards’ headquarters in the capital, Dhaka, where the bodies of senior officers were hurriedly dumped by the mutineers. Workers also scoured nearby areas, including a pond, in an intense search for more victims.

Among the dead was Maj. Gen. Shakil Ahmed, commander of the Bangladesh Rifles border force, and a woman that authorities believed was his wife.

Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Mahmud Hossain said at least 33 officers survived the carnage but 72 were still unaccounted for.

“This barbaric incident has caused much anger among the soldiers, which will be quelled by a thorough investigation, a trial of the killers and their proper punishment,” Hossain told reporters.

The insurrection apparently erupted over the guards’ long-standing complaints that their pay hasn’t kept pace with soldiers in the army — anger aggravated by the rise in food prices that has accompanied the global economic crisis. The guards earn about $100 a month.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who took office in January, sought to act decisively and quash questions about stability in the poor South Asian nation during the first major challenge her administration has faced.

Hasina ended the revolt in two days, earning high marks for preventing further bloodshed, by persuading the guards to surrender Thursday with promises of amnesty coupled with threats of military force.

However, Hasina said Friday that there would be no amnesty for any killers and her government gave border guards across the country 24 hours on Saturday to return to their posts or report to a local police station.

Journalists on Saturday were allowed inside the border guards’ compound.

The officers’ quarters and offices were ransacked and looted and the hulks of burned cars sat outside.

Blood stained the floor of the commander’s home, which was littered with broken furniture. The bodies of an elderly couple, identified as a retired army officer and his wife who were houseguests, were found at the residence, investigators said.

Observers said Hasina handled the crisis well, but cautioned that tensions could erupt again if the underlying problems weren’t addressed.

“The elected government faced the mutiny in its own way without using any other force and all parties supported its move,” said Muzaffer Ahmad, head of the Bangladesh chapter of Transparency International. “The whole incident has to be investigated and the grievances of the guards addressed properly.”

The government ordered a 10-member committee to investigate the mutiny. A report was expected in one week, Home Minister Shahara Khatun said after the panel’s first meeting.

The new head of the border guards, Brig. Gen. Moinul Hossain, met with the committee Saturday and pledged to restore discipline and morale.

“It will take time, but we are working on it,” Hossain said.

Also Saturday, Hasina met with political allies at her home to discuss the uprising.

“The whole nation will now have to be united,” the ruling alliance said in a statement after the meeting.

The country returned to democracy after elections in late December 2008, nearly two years after an army-backed interim government took over amid street protests demanding electoral reforms.

Hasina has a bitter history with the military. Her father was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s independence leader and its first head of state who was killed in a 1975 military coup along with his wife and three sons.

The country observed the second of three days of national mourning Saturday, with flags were flown at half staff and entertainment programs on television and radio stations canceled.

A mass funeral prayer and burial for the slain army officers was postponed until all the bodies are accounted for, a military statement said.

Associated Press writer Julhas Alam contributed to this report.

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