70 people killed by suspected Bodo militants, curfew imposed in Assam

Villagers said rebels came on foot, armed with assault rifles and wearing military uniforms

Guwahati: India imposed curfew in parts of Assam on Wednesday after suspected NDFB (Songbijit) militants killed 70 people in a series of five attacks in retaliation for an offensive against them.

Assam has a history of sectarian bloodshed and groups fighting for greater autonomy or secession from India.

Tuesday's attacks by militants of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland within the space of an hour were the deadliest in months.

Villagers told police the rebels came on foot, armed with assault rifles and wearing military uniforms.

Sources in the police said men, women and children were mowed down with AK-47 bullets.

"The militants first came and asked for water. Suddenly they opened fire with their AK-47 rifles,” a witness, who fled into jungle, later told reporters.

The guerrillas say they are fighting for a separate homeland for indigenous Bodo people. They complain that the tea-growing state has been flooded with outsiders.

Security forces launched a campaign last month against the rebels in their remote hideouts, prompting a threat from them to target settlers.

"They didn't even spare women and children," said a police officer, adding there were at least 10 women among the dead in Tuesday's violence. At least 13 children were killed.

Lalit Gogoi, deputy commissioner of the worst-affected Sonitpur district, said the army had been put on standby and a dusk to dawn curfew imposed.

The single hospital in Sonitpur was crowded with scores of people with gunshot wounds.

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said that the majority of victims in the "barbaric" attacks that took place last evening were women and children and steps were being taken to ensure that the situation does not escalate. The Centre said it was rushing in 5000 paramilitary personnel at the request of Assam government.

IGP (Law and Order) S N Singh said that the death toll had risen to 62 with 37 deaths in Sonitpur and 25 in Kokrajhar after heavily armed militants belonging to the Songbijit faction of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) swooped down on the four remote Adivasi villages of the two districts and killed the inhabitants last evening.

In Sonitpur district, 31 people were killed in Maitalu Basti under Zinzia police station and six in Jungle basti under Dhekiajuli police station while 20 people were killed in Shantipur Ultapani under Kokrajhar police station and five in Pakhriguri under Serfanguri police station of Kokrajhar district, he said.

Search operations were continuing in these interior villages which lack proper road communication.

Meanwhile, angry protestors, belonging to the Adivasi community set ablaze five houses allegedly belonging to the people of the Bodo community in Phuloguri area under Bishwanath Chariali police station in Sonitpur district Protest rallies were also taken out by thousands of tea garden workers, armed with bow and arrows, and a seven-km stretch of National Highway 15 was blocked by the protestors near Dhekiajuli in Sonitpur.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has directed state ministers Neelamani Sen Deka and Basanta Das to visit Kokrajhar and ministers Rockybul Hussain, Tanka Bahadur Rai and Prithbi Majhi to Sonitpur district.

"Most barbaric and most henious crime these NDFB(S) group has committed. We have to deal with it firmly.

"We have to go in a big way so that the culprits are booked," the Chief Minister said, adding that the security agencies have been directed to provide protection to the people in "sensitive" areas, including those inhabited by Bodos.

He said the militants will no longer be allowed to "hit and run" and the Prime Minister and the Home Minister have assured him all help.

"Neither the Government of Assam nor the Government of India will surrender to these militant groups. That's why we are asking for more paramilitary forces from the government of India," Gogoi said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to accelerate the development of roads and railways in the area.

Meanwhile additional paramilitary personnel were being rushed by Union home ministry to Sonitpur and Kokrajhar districts of Assam.

Home ministry sources said it has sought a report from the state government on the series of attacks by the militants.

They said Home Minister Rajnath Singh is constantly monitoring the situation in the places of the attacks.

Rajnath Singh spoke to Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and offered him all assistance to deal with the situation arising out of the massacre.

He asked Gogoi to firmly deal with the situation.

Union Cabinet paid homage to victims of "cowardly" attacks on Adivasis, observed silence.

( Source : reuters/pti )
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