- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 28, 2009

DHAKA, Bangladesh | Firefighters and security forces searching the headquarters of a mutinous Bangladeshi border guard unit Friday discovered the bodies of dozens of officers in shallow graves, raising the death toll to 66, officials said.

The discovery comes a day after the mutinous guards surrendered at the compound in the capital, Dhaka, shortly after the government sent in tanks in a show of force. The mutineers had been promised amnesty to persuade them to surrender.

But after meeting with family members of the dead officers, newly elected Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the amnesty would not apply to those who carried out the killings. “No one has the right to kill anyone,” she said.

The revolt has raised questions about the stability of Bangladesh and underlined the fragile relationship between the civilian government and the military. The impoverished South Asian nation has repeatedly faced bouts of military rule, returning most recently to democracy in January.

Army chief Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed met with Mrs. Hasina at her home late Friday to discuss the situation.

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

Overnight Thursday, authorities set up roadblocks around the country and detained hundreds of fleeing border guards, many of them disguised in civilian clothes.

Mizanur Rahman, a firefighter involved in the search, said they recovered 44 bodies Friday, bringing the toll to 66. Rescuers called off their search at nightfall but would resume Saturday, he said.

Among the bodies was that of Maj. Gen. Shakil Ahmed, the commander of the guards, Mr. Rahman said.

Lt. Col. Syed Kamruzzaman told ATN Bangla television that he saw Maj. Gen. Ahmed killed immediately after the mutiny began Wednesday.

“We are digging out dozens of decomposing bodies dumped into mass graves,” Brig. Gen. Abu Naim Shahidullah told NTV. All the victims appeared to be officers and were wearing combat fatigues, he said.

Many of the bodies were found in shallow holes that had been hastily covered with mounds of dirt. Others had been thrown into the sewers of the sprawling compound that housed the soldiers and many of their families.

As the toll mounted, the government declared two days of national mourning for the officers, said Mrs. Hasina’s spokesman, Abdul Kalam Azad.

Dozens of families - particularly those related to senior border guard officers - on Friday still did not know what had happened to their relatives.

The insurrection was the result of longtime frustrations over pay for the border guards that didn’t keep pace with that of the army - highlighted by rising food prices in the chronically poor South Asian country as the global economic crisis grows. The guards make about $100 a month. Their resentment has been heightened by the practice of appointing army officers to head the border guards.

The army plays a pivotal role in Bangladesh. There have been 19 failed coup attempts since the country gained independence from Pakistan in 1971, and two presidents have been killed in military takeovers.

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