Dozens more bodies found at Bangladesh mutiny site

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) -- Firefighters searching the headquarters compound of Bangladesh's border guards on Friday uncovered the grisly results of the force's two-day mutiny - dozens of senior officers massacred, their bodies hurriedly dumped into shallow graves and sewers.

By nightfall, 44 bodies had been found, including the body of Maj. Gen. Shakil Ahmed, the commander of the guards, bringing the confirmed death toll to 66, fire official Mizanur Rahman said. Dozens more officers were missing.

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 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, his wife and three sons.

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, Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed, met with Hasina at her home in Dhaka late Friday, apparently to discuss the situation.

"It's a national crisis," Ahmed told reporters. "The military will stand by the government."

Following the border guards' surrender Thursday, search teams moved into the sprawling Bangladesh Rifles compound that houses the guards and many of their families. They found the gruesome evidence of the killings the guards had tried to conceal.

One corner of the compound, nestled under the shade of coconut palms, held two mass graves where slain officers had been put into shallow holes and covered with mounds of dirt. Firefighters used crowbars to pry off manhole covers and recover more corpses stuffed into sewers.

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

Rescuers suspended the search at dusk, saying it was too dangerous to keep probing a compound littered with live ammunition and hand grenades.

"We don't want to take any chances," said Rahman, the firefighter official. "We need more time to complete the job."

After meeting with relatives of the dead officers, Hasina promised that amnesty would not apply to those responsible for the killings. "No one has the right to kill anyone," she said.

Security forces, who set up roadblocks across the country, arrested hundreds of border guards who tried to flee under cover of darkness, many of them wearing civilian clothes. It remained unclear whether the amnesty would apply to those guards who tried to flee.

The insurrection erupted from the guards' longtime frustrations 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.

The guards also didn't like the practice of appointing army officers to head the Bangladesh Rifles. Border guards also do not participate in U.N. peacekeeping missions, which bring additional pay.

Dozens of families - particularly those related to senior border guard officers - maintained a vigil outside the compound, waiting for news. But with only bodies emerging, their hopes faded.

"Let me talk to my father. Where is my father?" cried 10-year-old Mohammad Rakib, who accompanied his mother to the headquarters.

"We are waiting day and night here, but nobody can give us any news," said Sazzad Hossain, supporting his sister who was searching for her husband, Maj. Mamunur Rahman. "It's very difficult to make my sister understand, she is devastated. We know he is no more, we just want the body."

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Associated Press writer Farid Hossain contributed to this report.

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