Bangladesh Rifles: border guardians with a grievance

26 02 2009

Bangladesh Rifles: border guardians with a grievance
1 hour ago
DHAKA (AFP) — The Bangladesh Rifles, whose troops have mutinied in the capital Dhaka and elsewhere, is a well-armed paramilitary unit tagged as the country’s first line of defence.
With a total force of nearly 70,000 troops, the BDR’s primary task is to patrol and secure Bangladesh’s 4,000-kilometre (2,500-mile) border with both India and Myanmar.
As a border unit, it is highly involved in anti-smuggling operations, and its mandate further requires that it lend support to the military and civilian government in the event of war.
It has also been called in to assist police during times of national unrest.
The average BDR trooper earns about 70 dollars a month — the equivalent to a very low government clerk and a salary that has long been a source of simmering discontent within the ranks.
The revolt, which began at the BDR headquarters in Dhaka early Wednesday, was reportedly triggered by the refusal of senior officers to consider appeals for more pay, subsidised food and holidays.
Most of the officers are seconded to the Rifles from the army for a tenure of two to four years, and the BDR troopers have complained that this makes them less than receptive to their particular grievances.
Some have accused the officers of skimming off their salaries and appropriating food supplies meant for distribution to the poor.
Colonel Mujibul Haq, the third highest ranked BDR officer with a special responsibility for food distribution, was killed during Wednesday’s revolt and his body was found dumped in a drain outside the guards’ barracks.
Some of the mutineers who aired their grievances to television crews they invited into their HQ, directly accused the head of the BDR, Major General Shakil Ahmed, of making millions of dollars by stealing money from food funds.
M. Shahiduzzaman, a Dhaka university professor and security expert, said the complaints of corruption were widespread.
“I have heard stories from some honest officers about their colleagues who have become extremely rich,” Shahiduzzaman said.
“In contrast, an ordinary guard doesn’t get decent pay or food and spends a lot of time living in harsh, remote areas,” he said.
The BDR can trace its roots back to the late 18th century when the colonial British rulers recruited locals for a border force, which in time became known as the Eastern Frontier Rifles.
After independence from Britain and the partition of the sub-continent, it was renamed the East Pakistan Rifles.
During the struggle for independence from Pakistan, most of the troops revolted against their Pakistani overseers, and the current BDR was formed in 1972 following the creation of Bangladesh.
While the BDR is officially under the control of the Home Ministry, the regular army exerts a powerful influence through its role in training and running the force.
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