May 4 (Bloomberg) -- Soldiers were deployed to keep order in parts of India’s northeastern Assam state after tribal militants clad in fatigues and black masks gunned down at least 27 people and torched dozens of homes.
The victims of the attacks by separatist rebels from the National Democratic Front of Bodoland were Muslims in the Baksa and Kokrajhar districts, according to Ranjit Gogoi, Assam’s director of public relations. A curfew has been imposed and 22 people arrested after the killings two days ago and on May 1, said the state’s Director-General of Police Khagen Sharma.
“We are worried it will spread and we’re trying our best to prevent it,” Gogoi said by telephone yesterday, adding paramilitary forces have also been deployed. Police said 15 people are still missing and that the death toll could rise.
Assam has a history of violent unrest between indigenous Bodo tribespeople and Muslims, who resettled there from what is now Bangladesh. In 2012, ethnic clashes killed 80 people and displaced more than 400,000, prompting the government to block websites, censor social media, and ban bulk mobile-phone texting to check the spread of violence.
The latest attacks involved about 40 Bodo militants firing AK-47 rifles, and at least 35 houses belonging to Muslims were set ablaze near Manas National Park, said S.N. Singh, Assam’s inspector general of police for law and order.
The assailants wore fatigues and black-colored, cloth masks, according to the police. Four children were among the dead, said Baksa Deputy Commissioner Vinod Seshan.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a statement condemned the attacks, saying the government will seek to maintain order. The administration also said relief camps are being set up.
The Assam police inspector general, S.N. Singh, said the assaults may be a retaliation for a crackdown on the rebels since January that killed 18 militants and led 45 more to surrender.
The National Democratic Front of Bodoland says it’s fighting for an independent homeland for Bodo tribespeople.
The Times of India reported yesterday that the incidents may have been sparked by speculation the victims’ communities voted for a non-Bodo candidate in elections. The newspaper cited a leader of the Bodoland People’s Front it didn’t identify.
India’s general elections began in Assam and Tripura states on April 7 and results are due May 16.
To contact the reporter on this story: Rakteem Katakey in New Delhi at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Arijit Ghosh at email@example.com Sunil Jagtiani, Paul Verschuur