Death toll in Assam ethnic clashes mounts to 40 (Lead)

October 6th, 2008 - 7:06 pm ICT by IANS  

Guwahati, Oct 6 (IANS) The death toll in weekend ethnic clashes in Assam that displaced more than 10,000 people has mounted to 40 with authorities claiming Monday that the situation is slowly getting back to normal.”Since violence broke out on Friday, 40 people have died, 15 in police firing, and the rest in separate incidents of clashes, besides an estimated 100,000 people displaced in the rioting,” Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told journalists.

Eight of the injured victims died Monday in different hospitals.

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.

“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,” the chief minister 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 tensions between indigenous and immigrant communities in Assam, violence on such a scale is extremely rare, and some state officials accused local separatist groups of fuelling the unrest.

Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the root cause 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, but has never renounced its independence struggle.

“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.

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