Assam Bodo attack toll mounts to 65
December 24 2014 11:25 PM
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Tribal plantation workers burn houses belonging to indigenous Bodo tribesmen after ethnic clashes in
Tribal plantation workers burn houses belonging to indigenous Bodo tribesmen after ethnic clashes in Balijuri village, in Sonitpur district in Assam y

Agencies/Guwahati

Three people were killed in Assam yesterday when police fired at thousands of angry adivasis who took to the streets a day after Bodo militants massacred 65 unarmed tribals. Home Minister Rajnath Singh flew into the state to study the situation.

Heavily armed militants launched a series of co-ordinated attacks in rural Assam on Tuesday, pulling villagers from their homes and shooting them at point-blank range, witnesses said.

“This is one of the most barbaric attacks in recent times with the militants not even sparing infants,” Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told journalists.

He said all the victims were from the adivasi indigenous tribes.

The victims were mostly tea-plantation workers from other parts of India.

Assam, which borders Bhutan and Bangladesh, has a long history of often violent land disputes between the indigenous Bodo people, Muslim settlers from Bangladesh and rival tribes in the area.

Gogoi said around 2,000 adivasis armed with bows and arrows, machetes and other crude implements entered a local police station carrying the coffins of victims yesterday morning.

“Police opened fire when the protesters entered the police station and tried to attack,” he said.

Police said 12 children died in Tuesday’s attacks, which they blamed on the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).

The group has for decades waged a violent campaign for a separate homeland for the people of the Bodo tribes, which are indigenous to India’s northeast.

A curfew has been imposed in sensitive areas and the army is on standby, Inspector General of Police S N Singh said.

One villager said the rebels were armed with sophisticated assault rifles and had come on foot.

“I saw my wife and two sons being shot dead before my eyes,” said Anil Murmu, a 40-year-old survivor from the worst-hit village of Phulbari, where 30 people were killed.

“I somehow managed to escape by hiding under the bed,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attacks as an “act of cowardice.”

Police said recent talks initiated by the central government with one faction of the NDFB may have provoked the attacks. Some hardliners within the group opposed negotiations.

Bodo guerrillas have in recent years launched ferocious attacks on both Muslim settlers and adivasis who oppose their claim for an independent homeland.

The adivasis are disproportionately poor and many live in Assam, where they take poorly-paid work on tea plantations.

It was not clear why the villagers were targeted, but analyst K G Suresh said the attacks were likely carried out in revenge for a recent government crackdown on militants in the state.

“There was resentment among the NDFB over an anti-militancy operation that was carried out recently. The tribals were easy targets,” said Suresh, a senior fellow with the Vivekananda International Foundation think tank in Delhi.

“In the northeast there is not just one entity, there are hundreds of tribes who are mutually antagonistic.”

The Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights said the culprits must be held accountable for their crimes and criticised the state’s failure to bring those behind previous such attacks to justice.

Earlier this year, about 10,000 people fled their homes when violent clashes over a border dispute left more than 45 people dead.

In 2012, ethnic clashes in the same area in Assam claimed about 100 lives and displaced more than 400,000 people.

Adivasi groups yesterday staged retaliatory attacks on Bodo settlements in the area.

Television footage showed houses in flames with angry villagers demanding immediate action against the rebels.

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