Toll in Assam ethnic clashes mounts to 49 (Second Lead)

October 6th, 2008 - 10:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Guwahati, Oct 6 (IANS) The toll in ethnic clashes in Assam during the weekend has mounted to 49 and more than 100,000 people have been displaced, officials said Monday, adding that the situation was limping back to normal.”As many as 49 people have died since violence broke out Friday, 15 of them in police firing, and the rest in incidents of clashes,” Assam government spokesman and Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told journalists.

Eight of the injured died in hospitals, while nine more bodies were recovered from various parts of the violence-hit districts of Udalguri, Darrang, Baska, and Chirang in northern Assam Monday.

An additional 2,000 paramilitary troopers were deployed Monday to quell clashes between Muslim migrants and tribal groups that forced an estimated 100,000 to flee their homes as a result of the violence that broke out Friday and swiftly spread through three districts of the northeastern state, officials said.

“Curfew is still in force with shoot-on-sight orders issued to the security forces. The situation is gradually returning to normal with no fresh incidents of violence reported,” Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.

The clashes, between members of the Bodo tribal group and Muslim settlers originally from Bangladesh, have witnessed raids on numerous villages by groups armed with bows and poison-tipped arrows, spears and machetes.

“They set fire to a large a number of homes in my village,” said Dipali Basumatary, who had taken shelter with her two children in a government-run relief camp.

Although there have been cases of tension between indigenous and immigrant communities in Assam, violence on such a scale is very rare, and some state officials accused local separatist groups of fuelling the unrest.

Health Minister Sarma said the root cause of the trouble was a programme of “ethnic cleansing” implemented by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), a rebel group fighting for an independent tribal homeland.

“They want to drive out all non-Bodos from the area… it’s a systematic pogrom,” Sarma told IANS.

The NDFB, which is a largely Christian outfit, entered into a ceasefire with the Indian government in 2005, and renounced its demand for independent homeland, union home ministry official disclosed Sep 30 on condition of anonymity.

“We are investigating reports of the involvement of the NDFB in the clashes and, if proved, we shall be forced to call off the ceasefire,” the chief minister said.

“Army helicopters are conducting aerial surveillance over the violence-hit districts, besides round-the-clock patrol by security forces,” Assam police chief R.N. Mathur said.

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