Friday, February 27, 2009

Renegade troops cause havoc in Dhaka

The Economist magazine on Mutiny in Bangladesh

ONLY two months after a return to democratic rule, Bangladesh’s new government faces its toughest test yet. On February 25th the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), a 45,000-strong paramilitary force, primarily responsible for guarding the country’s borders, staged an armed mutiny. The renegade troops took 100 hostages and killed their commanding officer and many others. The army moved in to quell the mutiny. There ensued a 20-hour siege of the BDR’s headquarters that left perhaps 50 people dead and turned a posh residential area of Dhaka into a battle-zone. Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister, offered an amnesty and in response the mutineers began to surrender. But the next day the rebellion rekindled and spread to a dozen other towns across the country. As The Economist went to press, there were reports that the army was taking control of BDR border posts and tanks were approaching BDR headquarters in Dhaka. The government has agreed to consider the mutineers’ demands for better conditions. Another grievance is believed to be the BDR’s exclusion from lucrative UN peacekeeping missions. The crisis will strain the army’s relations with the new government, led by Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League, which won a huge parliamentary majority in an election in December. Since then, Sheikh Hasina has moved swiftly to limit the army’s role. However, with many of its officers among the dead, the army might resist the amnesty and push for the legal penalty for mutiny: death by hanging. And as ever in Bangladesh, with its long history of coups and counter-coups, there is speculation that such a rebellion would not be possible without the backing of a faction within the army itself. #

First published in The Economist, February 26, 2009