DHAKA, Feb 28 – Bangladeshi soldiers recovered 10 bodies in a second mass grave in a military compound in the capital on Saturday, bringing to 76 the death toll from an armed mutiny staged by border guards over pay.
The number of dead bodies in the grave could rise as the search continued, fire service operations chief Sheikh Mohammad Shahjalal said.
"We have so far removed 10 dead bodies. They are badly decomposed and many are mutilated," he said.
"It’s beyond comprehension how one human could have done this to another. They not only shot them dead but some bodies were badly mutilated with bayonets," he said.
Rescuers uncovered a first mass grave on Friday in the military compound that contained 38 bodies.
Another 28 bodies have been recovered in other parts of the compound, including in drains and sewers, following the 33-hour revolt by rank-and-file border security troops that began early on Wednesday.
Most of the dead were senior military personnel.
The latest grave was discovered well hidden in the corner of a garden, Shahjalal said.
"We have to exercise extreme caution when removing these bodies because so many are disfigured. It’s not just a matter of shovelling them out," he added.
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 on Friday.
News of the grisly discoveries of the bodies filled the front-pages of Bangladesh newspapers. "Mass grave horror numbs nation," said a headline in the English-language Daily Star, which commented in an editorial that the "barbarity" of the deaths was "unimaginable, unforgivable."
The government, meanwhile, issued a new order to all troops belonging to the 70,000-strong Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) to return to their posts within 24 hours.
In a nationwide television address on Saturday, the army’s second-in-command said the rank-and-file guards who turned on their superiors would be punished.
"The BDR 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 simmered for months but erupted into violence when senior officers rejected appeals for more pay, subsidised food and holidays.
The guards agreed to put down their arms after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina – who took office two months ago – appeared on national television and threatened to put down the mutiny by force.
Many who survived told how they took cover down sewerage manholes.
"It was dark and smelly. I jumped into it and kept the lid shut but I could hear the sound of gunshots," Major Munir told reporters.
More than 200 BDR members were arrested on Friday and police and army were conducting a nationwide search for those behind the revolt and killings.
Sheikh Hasina, who had promised a general amnesty for those who surrendered, said severe punishments would be handed to those responsible for the deaths.
"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 said.
The violence was the first major crisis faced by the premier since her landslide election win December 29 ended two years of army-backed rule.
Dhaka University professor Ataur Rahman said the 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 world’s poorest countries – 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 four million people in a country of 144 million below the poverty line.