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Bangladeshi soldiers hunt for missing officers

world Updated: Feb 28, 2009 12:04 IST

Bangladesh's military on Saturday resumed the search for dozens of officers still missing after a revolt by border guards, as the army promised those responsible for the bloodshed would be punished.

The grim search continued after rescuers on Friday found 38 bodies buried in a mass grave, including the chief of the border security force, taking the confirmed death toll from the mutiny to 66, with about 70 others still missing.

In a national television address delivered early Saturday, the army second-in-command said the rank-and-file guards who turned on their superiors in Wednesday's rebellion would be punished.

"The BDR (Bangladesh Rifles) troops who took part in these barbaric and grisly acts cannot be pardoned and will not be pardoned," said Lieutenant General M.A. Mubin.

"They will be given exemplary and quick punishment by a special tribunal. The martyrs will be buried with state honours."

Tensions in the BDR had been simmering for months but erupted into violence early Wednesday when senior officers rejected appeals for more pay, subsidised food and holidays.

The guards agreed to put down their arms only after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina -- who took office only two months ago -- appeared on national television and threatened to put down the mutiny by force.
Rescue team chief Sheikh Mizanur Rahman said no stone would be left unturned in the hunt for the dozens of missing senior military personnel.

"We are uncovering every manhole, looking at every piece of land," he said, adding that soldiers were not ruling out the possibility of finding more mass graves.

A joint funeral for the military personnel was expected to be held once all bodies had been recovered, and three days of national mourning began Friday.
Many who survived the 33-hour ordeal told how they took cover down sewerage manholes.

"It was dark and smelly. I jumped into it and kept the lid shut but could hear the sound of gunshots. I stayed there without any food and light. I could not separate day from night," Major Munir told reporters.
More than 200 members of the BDR were arrested Friday and police and army were conducting a nationwide search for those behind the revolt and subsequent killings.

Sheikh Hasina, who had promised a general amnesty for those who surrendered, said severe punishments would be handed to those responsible for the killings.

"These senior military personnel have been killed in a planned and calculated manner. It's a grisly slaughter. We will punish these criminals," cabinet minister Jahangir Kabir Nanak told reporters.
The violence was the first major crisis faced by the prime minister since her landslide election victory on December 29 ended two years of army-backed rule.

Ataur Rahman, a professor at Dhaka University, said the new government could not afford to ignore the underlying causes of long-term discontent in Bangladesh, especially the twin scourges of poverty and corruption.

"There are so many issues facing this country that it can be daunting for leaders, but they should not forget the issues facing the people," Rahman said.

Bangladesh -- one of the poorest countries in the world -- has a history of political violence, coups and counter-coups since winning independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Food prices have skyrocketed in the past two years, with the World Bank estimating rising inflation in that time has pushed some four million people in the country of 144 million below the poverty line.