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Asia News
Militants Kill Dozens in Northeast India
From the Wall Street Journal of Wed, 24 Dec 2014 10:40:53 EST
Activists block a road with burning tires during a protest against attacks on villagers by militants in the Sonitpur district of Assam, India.
Activists block a road with burning tires during a protest against attacks on villagers by militants in the Sonitpur district of Assam, India. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

NEW DELHI—Suspected separatist rebels in India’s northeastern state of Assam killed at least 56 people and wounded others in a series of attacks Tuesday.

Heavily armed militants from a faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland—an organization fighting for an independent homeland for the Bodo ethnic group in Assam—mounted attacks in five different places in the remote districts of Kokrajhar and Sonitpur, close to India’s borders with Bangladesh and Bhutan, a police official in Assam said.

A curfew has been imposed in parts of the state, and the army has been put on high alert, according to police.

India’s northeast region, which is home to more than 200 ethnic groups, has a long history of ethnic conflicts and separatist rebellions. Despite India’s economic progress, these areas have lagged behind in development, stoking discontent and driving demands for greater regional autonomy.

For decades, the Bodos have been fighting for a state of their own called Bodoland. The group follows a distinctive culture and speaks a Tibeto-Burman language.

The Bodos have also been involved in clashes with Bengali Muslims in the region, whom they allege are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. They accuse local Muslim communities of encroaching on their land and resources and changing the state’s demographic makeup.

In 2012, dayslong clashes between Bodos and Muslims killed at least 75 people and caused some 400,000 to flee their homes. Since 1992, more than 4,000 people, mostly Muslims, have lost their lives in violence in Assam, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, a New Delhi-based research group.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have vowed to stem illegal immigration from Bangladesh. The party’s leaders say a porous border and unchecked movement of people to India have led to land grabs and stirred ethnic tensions in the region.

On Tuesday, Mr. Modi condemned the recent attacks as “an act of cowardice.”

The rebels, dressed as military officials and armed with AK-47 weapons, stormed villagers’ homes Tuesday evening and fired indiscriminately, also killing women and children, Khagen Sarma, the state’s director general of police, said. The victims belonged to communities working on Assam’s tea gardens.

A spokesman for the Assam police, Rajib Saikia, said the attacks may be “in retaliation [for] intensified counterinsurgency operations by security forces.” In the past six months, authorities in Assam have arrested and killed a large number of violent separatists in the thickly forested areas along the India-Bhutan border, Mr. Saikia said.

“By launching such attacks, they are trying to divert attention of the security forces,” Mr. Saikia said.

The National Democratic Front of Bodoland, which police say carried out the attacks, has been fraught by internal differences in the past decade. Two factions of the group are involved in peace talks with the state government, while a third, responsible for the recent violence, is pursuing an armed struggle.

“This is today the most violent group in Assam,” said Rani Pathak Das, a senior research associate at the Center for Development and Peace Studies in the Assamese city of Guwahati. “The government needs a comprehensive policy on peace talks because the current strategy is not working.”

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who also described the attacks against unarmed villagers as “cowardly,” said the operations against the rebels would continue.

Write to Vibhuti Agarwal at vibhuti.agarwal@wsj.com and Niharika Mandhana at niharika.mandhana@wsj.com



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