Gun battles have again erupted on the streets of Dhaka as the Bangladeshi army advances on the headquarters of mutinying paramilitary forces.
The paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) had reportedly accepted an offer of amnesty from the prime minister and agreed to lay down arms earlier on Thursday.
Sheikh Hasina Wajed, the prime minister, called on the mutineers to surrender or face a harsh response.
“Lay down your guns immediately and go back to barracks. Do not force me to take tough actions or push my patience beyond tolerable limits,” she said in an emergency address to the nation.
Among the demands of the BDR, the country’s border security force, is higher wages.
The mutiny, which began on Wednesday, has left a reported 50 people dead and appears to have spread to dozens of BDR barracks across the country.
Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from Dhaka, said: “There are 46 barracks across the country, and there are 50,000 paramilitary soldiers. As we understand from our military sources here, there is sporadic fighting in most of these barracks.
“Fighting in these barracks is a huge security issue for the Bangladeshi forces and is being taken very, very seriously by the army.”
In Dhaka, about 12,000 soldiers were reported to be surrounding the BDR compound, while heavy artillery was positioned outside, our correspondent said.
Cellphone providers shut down mobile phone networks across the country on Thursday, an official said.
The government had issued an ultimatum to the BDR soldiers to surrender their arms by 2pm (8:00GMT) on Thursday, but the deadline passed with no surrender.
The director-general of the BDR was killed, along with his wife, at the headquarters on Wednesday.
BDR officers are also reported to be abandoning their posts for fear of attack.
It was not clear why an earlier amnesty deal broke down.
Mohammad Qamrul Islam, the state minister for law and parliamentary affairs, had said the guards were surrendering their arms after he emerged from the headquarters early on Thursday.
“We talked to the BDR troops and they said some 50 officers have been killed,” he said, but added that he had not confirmed the deaths.
“We heard that the casualties were kept at a hospital inside the compound.”
Hospital doctors confirmed that three bystanders were killed and about 20 people injured in the 20-hour mutiny.
Fifty women and children, who had been stranded at the BDR headquarters because of the fighting, were also freed early on Thursday.
The guards say they are upset with their superiors for not raising longstanding demands for equal pay and working conditions as army soldiers during Hasina’s visit the previous day.
Kailash Budhwar, a London-based South Asia analyst, told Al Jazeera that the mutiny was “most unexpected”.
“And it happened from a unit that was supposed to be most disciplined … a paramilitary force who guard the border,” Budhwar said.
“This certainly brings to memory the dark days when there was turmoil and anti-social takeover, and there are other undercurrents in Bangladesh who might take advantage of the situation.”
Source: Al Jazeera