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Bangladesh jails 723 soldiers for 2009 mutiny

DHAKA -- A Bangladesh court Saturday jailed 723 border guards for their role in a bloody 2009 mutiny, bringing the total number of soldiers imprisoned for the unrest to nearly 6,000, prosecutors said.

Fifty-seven senior army officers were killed during an uprising that began when soldiers at the Bangladeshi Rifles (BDR) headquarters in Dhaka went on a killing spree, later dumping victims' bodies in sewers and shallow graves.

A special military court in the capital found 723 border guards guilty of “joining and leading the mutiny,” state prosecutor Gazi Zillur Rahman told AFP, a charge that attracts a maximum penalty of seven years.

“In all 735 border guards ... were charged. Two died during the trial and 10 were acquitted. Of the 723 found guilty, 64 soldiers were sentenced to seven years in jail,” Rahman said.

The mutiny spread from Dhaka to BDR posts across the country, with thousands of guards taking up arms against their commanding officers.

Dozens of special courts — run by the military using a mix of martial and civilian law — were set up to prosecute mutineers, with the first verdict, which saw 29 soldiers convicted, being handed down in April 2010.

A total of 5,926 BDR soldiers have now been convicted, another prosecutor Mosharraf Hossain told AFP.

“With today's verdict, the BDR mutiny case has come to an end. In all 6,046 soldiers from the BDR's 57 battalions from across the country were tried in the case. It's the biggest case in the country's history,” he said.

Those convicted include hundreds of nurses and sportsmen who represented the country internationally. The courts, headed by military officers, did not allow defendants to have lawyers and there is no right of appeal.

Soldiers accused of more serious offences — including murder — are being tried separately in civilian courts and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Of the 723 soldiers convicted on Saturday, 86 still face murder charges, said prosecutor Rahman.

The BDR has since the event changed its name to the Border Guard Bangladesh (BAG) in an effort to distance itself from the mutiny.

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