30 000 flee clashes in northeast India

2012-07-23 16:50

Guwahati - About 30 000 villagers have fled their homes in northeast India amid clashes between Bodo tribal groups and Muslim settlers that have seen 19 people killed so far, police said on Monday.

Soldiers were out in force in the restive state of Assam to try to stop the violence over land rights, in which houses have been set ablaze and villagers forced to shelter in government buildings and schools to avoid the fighting.

"Clashes that broke out on Friday night have so far claimed the lives of 19 people and at least 12 [were] also injured," SN Singh, Assam inspector general of police, told AFP by telephone.

"Police, army and paramilitary troopers have intensified patrols and a curfew has been imposed in many areas," Singh said, adding there were 30 000 people in the government shelters.

Four bodies were recovered by police on Monday from Kokrajhar district, about 220km west of Assam's main city of Guwahati.

The fighting, in regions close to the borders with Bhutan and Bangladesh, is the latest outbreak of violence over long-running territorial disputes.

During the regular bouts of unrest many people from both the Bodo and Muslim communities - particularly women and children - seek safety in designated schools and government offices.

They are protected by soldiers and food is provided.

"We have fled our homes leaving behind everything fearing attack on our lives," Pramila Brahma, a mother of four, told a local television channel at one shelter.

Retaliatory attacks

"We don't know if at all we can go back to our village as they set ablaze most of the houses," added Habibur Rahman, a casual labourer.

The Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency said the fighting was triggered when two Muslim student leaders were shot and seriously injured in Kokrajhar, leading to revenge strikes on Bodo groups.

Rockybul Hussain, the Assam state forest minister, told AFP he was in the affected area and that more security personnel were needed to ensure peace before any villagers started to return home.

"We are appealing for calm and asked authorities to take adequate security measures," he said.

Kampa Borgoyary, deputy chief of the Bodoland Territorial Council, a local government organisation, said: "There is some panic and people are moving to safer areas apprehending retaliatory attacks."

Northeast India, a remote part of the huge country, has seen decades of friction between several ethnic and separatist groups, though some of the biggest rebel movements have recently started peace talks with the government.