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Dhaka to try 4,000 troopers for mutiny
Published on 26 Sep. 2009 11:37 PM IST
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The Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), the country's border guard, will try over 4,000 of its troopers who staged a mutiny in February, killing 71 people, including 57 army officers. The trials will be held by the end of November, the government has announced. A three-member court led by BDR Director General Maj Gen M. Mainul Islam will sit in Dhaka and 40 other places across the country to conduct the trials. A highly-placed source told The Daily Star newspaper that the BDR will constitute the court next month by incorporating two BDR officers each from the Lt Col and Major rank. There will also be a law officer to 'assist' the trial, the newspaper said Saturday. As per the Supreme Court's advice, the government has decided to try the accused under two separate laws - the BDR Act to try only mutineers, and the penal code to try the offenders who face either capital punishment or life imprisonment, which is not covered by the BDR Act. The troopers who will be tried are from an estimated 15,000 who rebelled, ostensibly to demand better pay packets, perks and working conditions, killing their then director general, Major General Shakil Ahmed, during the Feb 25-26 mutiny. The mutiny has been the biggest challenge Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government faced since it took office in January. The government and the opposition have traded charges of 'conspiracy', but two probes, limited in nature, have not touched upon them. Moves to try the mutineers under the military law attracted criticism at home and from human rights bodies like the Human Rights Watch and the Amnesty International. The government then got Supreme Court directions that there could not be a trial under military law for the civilian troopers. According to the BDR laws, every accused will get at least 27 days to prepare his defence. The accused will be able to get officers from the force free of cost for defence or can hire lawyers from outside. The BDR authorities have requested the government to appoint some lawyers for the prosecution in the BDR court, say the sources. 'There is no time frame to complete the trial, but definitely we would try to do justice as quickly as possible ensuring every right of the accused,' said a top BDR official. It is going to be an 'open trial' and to ensure its transparency and accountability the people concerned would be allowed to observe the court proceedings. The BDR's highest court is empowered by its laws to try those who are accused only of mutiny and committing some small offences. 'This implies that some accused mutineers need to be tried at the Speedy Trial Tribunal under the penal code for heinous offences like killing, looting and arson during the carnage,' the newspaper said. So far 1,700 BDR personnel have been detained in different stations outside Dhaka and another 2,000 have been arrested at the BDR headquarters at Pilkhana in the national capital for their alleged involvement in the mutiny. But the total number of the accused would be finalised after all the 'courts of inquiry', which have been formed to investigate the offences, submit their reports. The number of accused may even cross 4,000 and it may take a few years to complete the trials, BDR sources told the newspaper.

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