Indian meningitis outbreak kills 18

A Bangladeshi woman waits for news of a missing relative at the Bangaldesh Rifles heaquarters in Dhaka.
An outbreak of meningococcal meningitis in India’s remote northeastern state of Tripura has left 18 people dead in less than a week, health officials said Monday.

Search crews have now recovered at least 73 bodies from a river, sewers and three mass graves inside the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) paramilitary headquarters, where the rebellion occurred Wednesday. Fifty-one of the dead were confirmed as army officers, the home ministry said. An additional six were Rifles troops, or jawans. The rest of the bodies were too damaged for immediate identification. Authorities have placed the number of army officers inside the premises at the time of the rebellion at about 170. More than 70 are still missing and presumed dead. The 35-hour revolt was “completely pre-planned,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told parliament Sunday night, without offering further details. She asked for help with the investigation from the FBI and Britain’s Scotland Yard police headquarters. The American Embassy in Dhaka said the United States has offered to “render all possible assistance.” The 65,000-strong Rifles is a border security force — distinct from the army, but whose commanders are career army officers. The jawans had complained for years that their army superiors dismissed their appeals for more pay, subsidized food and the opportunity to participate in U.N. peacekeeping operations, which pay far more than what they make at home. On Wednesday, they took their superiors hostage after a fiery gun battle, and a two-day stand-off ensued. Initially Hasina promised the jawans amnesty — and they agreed to lay down their arms. But as the scope of the massacre became clear, the prime minister backtracked. “The amnesty will not apply to those who killed, committed arson, looted,” she told lawmakers Sunday. “We do not spare killers.” The police filed murder charges against more than 1,000 Rifles troops. And Hasina gave the jawans 24 hours to turn themselves in. The deadline expired Sunday. On Monday, the army launched its search operation, named “Operation Rebel Hunt.”

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Bangladesh has a long history of coup and counter-coup. Still, the heavy presence of camouflaged soldiers was welcomed by many Dhaka residents who are more concerned about justice being meted out. “The army’s not going to take over,” said Shaon Tanvir, a U.S. resident who recently relocated to Dhaka. “They had their opportunity for two years and they didn’t, and they’ve made it clear they’re not going to now. And people believe that.”

Tanvir was referring to the two years of army-backed rule that ended with peaceful democratic elections in December. The government would only say the soldiers will be on the street until all the jawans have been arrested.