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Bangladesh Rifles

Bangladesh RiflesThe 2,400-kilometer border with India was patrolled by a paramilitary force called the Bangladesh Rifles. During peacetime, Bangladesh Rifles commanders have authority to conduct "flag meetings" with their Indian paramilitary counterparts whenever stray firing incidents occur. For instance, in April 1984 a Bangladesh Rifles jawan was killed when India began construction of a barbed wire fence along the Indo-Bangladeshi border as part of a campaign to curb illegal immigration into Assam. After conducting several flag meetings, Bangladesh Rifles commanders and their Indian counterparts agreed to withdraw some of their forces from the border area and submit the legality of the fence to a bilateral committee. Under this mechanism, Indian and Bangladeshi regular forces avoided a confrontation that could have escalated.

For budgeting purposes, the Bangladesh Rifles were subordinate to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The army, however, played a major role in staffing, training, and directing the force. The Bangladesh Rifles was a paramilitary force, but the conflict between the top brass and lower-ranking troops had been building since the 1990s because all of the top posts were filled by Bangladeshi army officers, meaning long-serving border guard officers had no hopes for promotion and lived on very low wages in comparison to their superiors. Most Bangladesh Rifles officers were seconded from the regular army. For instance, in 1988 the army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Atiqur Rahman, served as director general of the Bangladesh Rifles for four and one-half years. In addition, retired JCOs and jawans are often assigned to the Bangladesh Rifles in recognition of long years of service.

The paramilitary force, which by 2009 had over 65,000 soldiers in more than 60 posts [64 as of 2012] nationwide, was primarily tasked with patrolling Bangladesh's four-thousand kilometer-long border with India. But it was also used as an auxiliary force to assist the army and police during times of unrest. The mission of the force included patrolling borders, interdicting smugglers, investigating transborder crimes, and extending governmental authority in isolated areas. In addition, paramilitary forces provided backup to the army during wartime.

The BDR traces it roots to the late 18th century when it was formed by colonial British rulers. It has a heroic legacy in modern Bangladesh because most of its troops revolted against their Pakistani masters during the 1971 war of independence. The country's first line of defense, the Bangladesh Rifles, was descended from the East Pakistan Rifles formed during the period of a united Pakistan.

The Bangladesh Rifles came into existence shortly after independence. The original complement of 9,000 personnel were mostly East Pakistan Rifles deserters who had fought with the Mukti Bahini. By 1973 a vigorous recruiting campaign had swelled Bangladesh Rifles ranks to about 20,000 personnel.

Although Bangladesh Rifles units can be called upon to assist the police in putting down domestic disturbances, their primary role is to guard the nation's frontiers. The force was organized into battalions along military lines. During wartime or declared national emergencies, the president, in his role as commander in chief, can authorize the military to assume direct control over all paramilitary and police forces.

Bangladeshi Rifles MutinyOn 25 February 2009 Bangladeshi border guards mutinied on Wednesday, taking senior officers hostage at their headquarters in the capital, Dhaka. Some 300-400 border guards from the Bangladeshi Rifles took over their headquarters, demanding better pay and conditions. The border guards were particularly disgruntled about their salary structure, and not being able to get promotions or positions as U.N. peacekeepers. There had been complaints of officers skimming funds while the relatively meager salaries of the guards have not keep pace with soaring food prices.

Television pictures showed Bangladeshi army soldiers closing off the area, and smoke could be seen coming from some of the buildings and gunfire could be heard. Heavy gunfire and the booms from mortar shells caused chaos in the densely populated streets of the Bangladeshi capital. The mutiny threw part of Bangladesh's capital into panic, schoolchildren were trapped inside the compound as the army and border guards exchanged fire. A nearby shopping center in the upscale neighborhood of Philkhana was also reported to have been seized by mutineers.

Reacting to the first crisis facing her government since she returned to power two months ago, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina appealed to mutinous members of the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles to put down their weapons. A delegation from the force went to her residence for negotiations. The rebels put down their weapons after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina negotiated with them and made a nationally televised appeal, saying in exchange for surrender she would address their concerns and grant amnesty to mutineers. By 26 February 2009, a number of 74 people, including 57 army officers - mostly commanding officers - had been brutally killed. Bangladeshi authorities initially arrested at least 300 border guards who allegedly took part in the mutiny.

The prime minister called the uprising a well-planned conspiracy to try to sabotage her agenda to make Bangladesh a stable secular democracy. She said all BDR members were presumed guilty and the government will find out who is responsible for the killings. In an effort to end the two-day mutiny, the prime minister initially promised amnesty for the rebels. But the army's second-in-command, Lieutenant General Mohammad Abdul Mubin, said that was not going to happen.

Reports of guards firing their weapons along the border with India prompted fresh concern here. India and Bangladesh share a 4,000-kilometer-long border that is porous and poorly demarcated in some places. The mutiny by the Bangladesh Rifles prompted India to heighten an alert along the shared 4,000-kilometer border. The director-general of India's Border Security Force, Mahendra Lal Kumawat, says no incidents have been reported. "We have asked our officers and men to remain fully alert, vigilant and watch the situation along the border and take appropriate action in case action is needed," said Mahendra Lal Kumawat.

Following that grievous mishap, reorganization of the force inevitably came onward. After passing the 'Border Guard Bangladesh Act, 2010' in the Parliament on 08 December 2010, it has come into effect from 20 December of the same year. Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, formally raised the flag and opened the monogram of the renamed force on 23 January 2010 to launch as 'Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB)'.

More than 2,000 border guards were accused of crimes associated with the mutiny, including murder, looting and arson. On 27 June 2011 a special court set up in the capital, Dhaka, to try the mutineers sentenced 657 border guards to up to seven years in prison for their involvement in a 2009 mutiny that left 74 people dead. Officials said 108 guards were jailed for the maximum seven years, while the others received lesser sentences. The special court had already convicted and sentenced more than 300 border guards for involvement in the mutiny.

On 12 September 2011 the special court in Dhaka sentenced another 182 border guards to prison for their role in the deadly 2009 mutiny that killed 74 people. The court handed a maximum seven-year jail term to 20 of the border guards and imposed shorter sentences on the others. Five guards were acquitted. The latest sentences raised the total number of border guards jailed for the mutiny to more than 3,000.

Human Rights Watch called on Bangladesh to stop mass trials for the hundreds of border guards accused in the 2009 mutiny. The New York-based rights group said that those responsible for the deadly mutiny should be held accountable, but in military and civilian courts that met international fair trial standards. Human Rights Watch's Asia director, Brad Adams, said Wednesday that it is “impossible” to try hundreds of people at the same time and expect “anything resembling a fair trial.” He added that the massacre shocked Bangladesh, but each of the accused should only be found guilty if the government provides specific evidence against them.

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Page last modified: 20-05-2012 18:42:47 ZULU