Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shootout in Dhaka, Bangladesh

It's been quite a day – and it isn't over yet.

From 9:00 in the morning till now, the paramilitary forces known as the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) have been shooting indiscriminately in and around their sprawling headquarters in Dhaka at Pilkhana.

According to their spokesmen, the army, which contributes to their officer ranks (the BDR itself has no officers) have been discriminating against them. During the two-year military rule, they alleged, the army had made a lot of money by siphoning off funds from a meal program for the poor. Additionally, they are overworked and underpaid by the army.

However, the rebellion seems to be contained exclusively within the BDR headquarters in Dhaka. The BDR are stationed throughout Bangladesh – their major duty is to guard the border – and there have been no reports of anything similar happening outside Dhaka. My sources report, for instance, that the BDR soldiers at Teknaf in the south-east have deposited all their weapons, and the keys to the armoury are firmly in the commanding officer's hands.

The government has granted them amnesty, and now, it seems, the soldiers are ready to put down arms. Their earlier demand had been the removal of the army encircling Pilkhana.

From morning, the army has been gathering its forces and materiel around the BDR headquarters. The pictures were taken by my wife, Farhana, from our verandah! We are less than half a kilometre away from Pilkhana. The streets around – indeed the whole city – have been deserted.

All day long, we've heard shots being fired at a distance.

So far, it is reported that five people have been killed, including civilians. Several army officers, including their families, are being held hostage. No one knows what it is like inside Pilkahana.

It is past 1:00 at night, and Farhana and I went to the verandah to see two truck full of soldiers patiently stationed below in the narrow street.

Their presence is warmly reassuring.

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