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FBI to help Bangladesh probe border guards' mutiny

A team from the FBI will assist Bangladeshi police investigating last month's bloody mutiny by border guards that killed more than 70 people, a government minister said on Sunday.

world Updated: Mar 08, 2009 22:31 IST

A team from the FBI will assist Bangladeshi police investigating last month's bloody mutiny by border guards that killed more than 70 people - mostly army officers, a government minister said on Sunday.

Police also said on Sunday that they have so far arrested 36 suspects out of the more than 1,000 border guards charged in the mayhem.

The two-day insurrection shook Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's two-month-old elected government and raised tension with the powerful military, which has staged 21 coup attempts in the past. Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said two agents from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation were expected to arrive late on Sunday in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, to make an initial assessment. The government sought technical and forensic assistance from the FBI as well as from Britain's Scotland Yard after the Feb. 25-26 mutiny at the Dhaka headquarters of the Bangladesh Rifles, a paramilitary border patrol force that is commanded by army officers. The FBI agents will join police investigators, who said they have so far gathered evidence including weapons possibly used during the mutiny, which apparently began over complaints over pay, perks and promotion prospects. The border guards reportedly ambushed their superiors, shooting and burying dozens of them in shallow graves. "We're questioning the arrested guards, who are believed to have been involved in the carnage," Abdul Kahar Akhand, an officer of the Criminal Investigation Department, said.

The Home Ministry and the military also formed separate probe committees to investigate the incident. Moni said the FBI team may also meet with members of those two committees.

The mutiny ended through negotiations, with offers of amnesty and a show of military force.

But when dozens of bodies _ including those of 56 commanding officers _ were discovered dumped into shallow graves or sewers on the sprawling compound, the government rescinded the amnesty for those behind the mutiny. Four other army officers are still reported missing, and presumed dead.

The government has pledged to form a special tribunal to try those involved, but Law Minister Shafiq Ahmed said on Sunday that such a tribunal would require amending the constitution and that the mutineers could still be tried under existing criminal laws. "What type of court and under which law the mutiny case will be tried ultimately depends on the investigation reports," the minister said.

Authorities have already filed criminal charges against 1,000 guards and launched a nationwide manhunt to catch the suspects. Only six suspects have been identified, including the border guards' deputy assistant director, who had led the team that negotiated surrender with the government.

Those found guilty could face the death penalty for murder, arson, looting and hostage-taking.