GUWAHATI: Tribal separatists killed at least 12 Muslims in the northeastern state of Assam yesterday, taking the toll to 23 following two days of deadly carnage, police said.
“Some 10 heavily armed militants went on a rampage, torching about 20 houses and killing at least 12 people,” police inspector general S N Singh said.
The attack was reported in Narayanguri village in Baksa district, some 200 kilometres west of Assam’s main city of Guwahati.
On Thursday night rebels had killed three villagers in the same district and eight more in neighbouring Kokrajhar, opening fire on the victims as they slept in their homes.
The attacks prompted security forces to launch a massive hunt for the guerillas.
An indefinite curfew has been imposed in the violence-torn districts, with shoot-at-sight orders given to police, Singh said.
India’s Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde spoke to Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi over phone, assuring him of every kind of help to deal with the situation.
The victims of the attacks were Muslim migrants who have been locked in staggered land disputes with indigenous Bodo tribes in the tea-growing state that borders Bhutan and Bangladesh.
The attacks come as India votes in a multi-phased general election that began on April 7. Voting in Assam has ended, with April 24 the last day of polling.
Police blamed the attacks on the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland, which has been demanding a separate homeland for decades.
Survivors of Thursday’s attack in Kokrajhar district described how a group of around 20 masked gunmen had carried out the killings late on Thursday night.
“We were asleep when gunmen barged into our home and sprayed bullets, killing my elderly mother, my wife and my four-year-old daughter,” Siraj Ali told a local TV channel.
“I don’t have anyone left in my family now,” Ali added.
Seventeen people were killed in clashes in the same region in January and thousands of others fled their homes for fear of further attacks.
In 2012, ethnic clashes in the same area claimed about 100 lives and displaced more than 400,000 people.
Chief Minister Gogoi said that his government was “taking all possible steps to control the situation” as he condemned the attacks.
However a local Muslim leader said some villagers had already fled, fearing more attacks.
“There has been a heavy exodus of villagers to safer areas following the attacks,” Lafiqul Islam, leader of the All Bengali Minority Students Union, said.
“This is nothing but a systematic pogrom aimed at chasing out non-tribal settlers from the area,” he added.
The Hindustan Times daily said Muslim villagers were targeted as a punishment for not voting for candidates backed by the rebels.
“It seems the Bodos wanted to the teach the Muslims a lesson for supporting an outsider,” said a state intelligence officer.