Dhaka: The decomposing bodies of seven army officers were found in the headquarters of a Bangladesh paramilitary unit on Friday, taking the known death toll from a mutiny over pay and command structures to 18, officials said.
But scores of officers of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) remain missing, including its chief, after junior ranks mutinied and shooting erupted at its headquarters in Dhaka on Wednesday, officials and local media said.
The revolt ended late on Thursday after the rebels handed over their weapons following an amnesty offer and an appeal by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to return to the barracks.
ANXIOUS, WORRIED: The missing officers' families have been in tears, trying to get some word about their men.
Government tanks, armoured personnel carriers and troops ringed the BDR headquarters complex in the first major test of Hasina's government since it took office last month after two years of emergency rule by an army-backed administration.
"The death toll from the mutiny has reached 18 after police recovered seven decomposed bodies from the BDR complex overnight," police officer Abdur Rahman told reporters.
Bangladesh's privately-run Chanel-I television, quoting security officials, said 168 army officers were present at a meeting at the BDR headquarters to resolve the row over wages when the shooting started.
"11 of them have been found dead, 22 have been rescued alive but the others including the paramilitary chief, Major-General Shakil Ahmed, are missing," Channel-I said.
Later seven more bodies were found, taking the confirmed death count to 18.
A government minister said on Wednesday that at least 50 people had been killed when BDR troops fought each other in an internal row over their demand for higher wages.
"The rebels killed dozens of officers, threw their bodies in drains and canals, hid some in the bushes and may have buried some others," survivor Major Jahid, told the television station.
One army officer told a private TV station that he saw the paramilitary chief Shakil being shot at.
The BDR's officers are traditionally seconded from regular army units, an arrangement resented by some BDR troops, who want their own officer corps.
A pay dispute made matters worse. Hasina has promised to meet their demands over time. Though short-lived, the mutiny underscored the challenges facing Hasina, who took office last month after winning parliamentary elections in December that returned Bangladesh to democracy after nearly two years of army-backed emergency rule.
"Go back to your barracks," she said in her broadcast. "Give democracy and the economy a chance to develop."
Hasina badly needs to show she can restore stability and persuade foreign investors to help develop Bangladesh, 40 per cent of whose people live below the poverty line.
The bodies found early on Friday had been shot and dumped in drains and sewerage canals in the sprawling BDR headquarters in the Pilkhana district of the capital, Dhaka.
Families of the missing soldiers and officers were seen crying outside the BDR headquarters and begging to get in, now under control of police.
"Just tell me if he is alive," said a woman who said her husband was missing. "Let me enter and search for him, my children are waiting for their father," she begged.
Four civilians were killed when they were hit by stray bullets in and around the headquarters.
Police stepped up a hunt on Friday for BDR soldiers who fled their camp in Dhaka after laying down arms, officials said.
They searched buses, trains and ferries, witnesses said.