Image: Mutineers in Bangladesh
Andrew Biraj  /  Reuters
Border guards in Bangladesh mutinied as longtime frustrations over pay sparked violence.
updated 2/26/2009 7:53:31 PM ET 2009-02-27T00:53:31

Tanks rolled through the Bangladeshi capital Thursday in a show of force that finally persuaded mutinous border guards to lay down their arms, ending a two-day revolt that threatened to spread across the impoverished South Asian nation.

At least 18 people were killed in the insurrection after the nearly 2,000 guards opened fire on their senior officers and seized their headquarters to protest poor pay and conditions.

Concerned about reports of dozens still missing, firefighters searched the area through the night and recovered seven more bodies, fire official Dilip Kumar Ghosh said early Friday.

He said two of the bodies — a man and a woman — were found at the home of the border force's chief, Maj. Gen. Shakil Ahmed, but the commander was not one of them.

One officer said earlier that he saw Ahmed killed immediately after the mutiny began Wednesday.

"I was confronted by the soldiers three times, but I have survived," that officer, Lt. Col. Syed Kamruzzaman, told ATN Bangla television station. "Allah has saved me from the face of death."

Authorities did not make any statement about the chief's whereabouts.

The mutinous guards had agreed to surrender after the government promised Wednesday to give them amnesty and agreed to look into their demands.

But as the process stalled and the revolt appeared to be spreading to other areas Thursday, recently elected Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina warned the rebels she would "do whatever is needed to end the violence."

White flag
Hours later, tanks and armored vehicles with heavy machine guns rolled into the capital, taking up positions in residential neighborhoods around the border guards' compound. An Associated Press reporter saw several tanks stationed in a playground.

Apparently intimidated, the guards hoisted a white flag on Thursday afternoon and resumed laying down arms.

"All the mutinous border guards have surrendered their weapons," government negotiator Mahbub Ara Gini told reporters, adding that all military officials with their families trapped inside the headquarters had been evacuated.

Home Minister Shahara Khatun said police took control of the compound, and 22 officials were rescued. She said no more bodies had been found in the compound, though officials earlier had said they feared up to 50 people were dead.

As the insurrection threatened to spread to other border guard units across the country Thursday, mutineers fired shots at the commanding officer's residence.

But after Hasina's address to the nation, no further incidents were reported.

"We don't want to use force to break the standoff," Hasina said. "But don't play with our patience. We will not hesitate to do whatever is needed to end the violence if peaceful means fails."

Travel warnings
In addition to the seven dead found before dawn Friday, the bodies of eight border guards — all of them officers — were found Thursday outside their headquarters, doctors at a local hospital said. Three civilians were killed Wednesday, including a rickshaw driver, a resident and a street vendor.

Noting the unsettled conditions, the U.S. Embassy repeated its warning for American citizens in Bangladesh to be cautions and avoid unnecessary travel. It said the embassy's American employees were still restricted to the diplomatic enclave in the capital.

The insurrection was the result of longtime frustrations over pay for the border guards that didn't keep pace with that of the army's — 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. They are also not allowed to participate in lucrative U.N. peacekeeping missions.

The army plays a pivotal role in Bangladesh, and only recently let the country of 150 million return to civilian rule.

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.

More on Bangladesh

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