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Bangladesh Mutiny: 1,000 Guards Charged Over Massacre

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DHAKA, Bangladesh — More than 1,000 border guards were charged Sunday with murder and arson in a uprising that left at least 148 people dead or missing, most of them army officers whose bodies were hurriedly discarded by the mutineers.

The details of what the prime minister called "a planned massacre" emerged after the government withdrew its promise of amnesty and sought to repair its increasingly tense relations with the military.

One man, among just 33 officers known to have escaped from the two-day siege in the guards' headquarters, described the scene as "like doomsday for me."

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met with military officials furious that she offered amnesty to the mutinous border guards to persuade them to surrender. The officers argued that lives could have been saved if Hasina had ordered an army assault on the guards' compound.

Hasina told Parliament she had asked for help from the FBI to investigate.

"We'll definitely unearth everything," she said.

The government announced that those directly responsible would not fall under the amnesty.

Firefighters have recovered 77 bodies, but at least 71 officers were still unaccounted for in the uprising at the Bangladesh Rifles border force headquarters in the capital, Dhaka. Teams searched for bodies buried in the compound or dumped in nearby sewers. Most of the missing were presumed dead, said Sheikh Mohammad Shajalal, a firefighter overseeing the search.

The insurrection has raised questions about the stability of Hasina's two-month-old government in the impoverished South Asian country, which has seen nearly two dozen successful and failed military coups in its 38-year history.

Hasina and the military have a long history of mutual mistrust. During Sunday's meeting, she tried to appease the army officials by referring to a 1975 military coup in which her father, Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was killed along with her mother and three brothers, according to a participant who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the discussion.

"Nobody knows better than me about the loss of dear ones in such a tragic incident," Hasina said, according to the participant.

The charges filed Sunday named six border guards and left more than 1,000 unnamed, according to police official Nobojyoti Khisa. Thousands of border guards were at the headquarters when the mutiny began Wednesday, out of a total force of 67,000.

Some questioned whether the border guards acted on their own.

Ruling party spokesman Syed Ashraful Islam said initial evidence suggested that the mutinous guards may have had outside assistance, but he did not elaborate.

Farukh Khan, a member of Hasina's Cabinet and a former army officer, told Parliament on Sunday that it was part of a "deep-rooted conspiracy" by people who wanted to destabilize the country.

He dismissed claims that the insurrection erupted over complaints of low pay.

By law, the border force's leadership is made up of army officers. Some mutineers said they waged the rebellion out of long-simmering resentment toward the officers, who receive higher pay and more perks.

Maj. Ishtiaq, part of the army leadership of the border force, told reporters that a border guard helped him escape the uprising.

"When the firing began he said, 'Sir, they will kill you, please come with me.' It was like doomsday for me. I then went with him to his residence amid shooting all around. He gave me his clothes to hide my identity," said Ishtiaq, who only uses one name.

"It was unbelievable when the killers rejoiced after killing the officers," he said.

Authorities announced a special tribunal would try the border guards, an apparent concession to soldiers who demanded prompt trials and punishment.

Meanwhile, hundreds of border guards reported back to their headquarters Sunday, after the Home Ministry gave them a 24-hour ultimatum to return to their posts, report to police stations or face disciplinary action.

Some who reported for work said they were on leave or off duty during the mutiny, while others said they fled the compound after the violence started.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard A. Boucher phoned Hasina on Sunday to offer Washington's support, according to a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka.

Bangladesh returned to democracy after elections in late December 2008, nearly two years after an army-backed interim government took over amid street protests demanding electoral reforms.

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Associated Press writer Parveen Ahmed contributed to this report.