India Boosts Forces in Border State as Rebels Kill 63

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India is boosting security forces in a remote area near its border with Bhutan after separatist rebels killed 63 tribals in what police called retaliation for a crackdown in the region.

Paramilitary forces would arrive by evening amid a “tense” situation, S.N. Singh, inspector general of police in the northeastern state of Assam, said by phone. About 3,000 personnel will be added after mostly women and children were killed in four separate attacks that started last evening.

“Militancy must be crushed ruthlessly and rights be protected,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley tweeted. Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attacks as “an act of cowardice” and ordered compensation of 200,000 rupees ($3,148) to families of the victims.

The attacks threaten to spark unrest in the state, which has a history of communal violence. The region is home to the indigenous Bodo, rival tribes such as the Rabhas, as well as Muslims who settled there from what is now Bangladesh.

The assailants were from a faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, Khagen Sarma, Assam’s director general of police, said by phone. The group, which says it’s fighting for an independent homeland, is hitting back after police killed six rebels and seized 22 weapons including assault rifles in the past month, Sarma said.

“They would like to kill policemen and army men but they attack soft targets,” he added.

Tea Workers

The victims were mostly members of a community who traditionally work in the tea gardens of the region, according to Amnesty International. They included at least 22 women and 20 children, according to Sarma, who said the toll may rise as more bodies are recovered from the area, which lacks roads and communication links.

Thousands of tea garden workers, armed with bows and arrows, blocked a 7-kilometer stretch of a national highway in protest while angry villagers set alight five houses belonging to Bodo owners in Phuloguri, Press Trust of India reported.

Ethnic clashes killed 80 people and displaced more than 400,000 in 2012, prompting the government to block websites, censor social media, and ban bulk mobile-phone texting to check the spread of violence.

The central government will provide “all assistance to the state,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh said in a Twitter post as he made plans to travel to Assam to assess the situation.

Earlier this year, India deployed soldiers to the state to keep order after masked militants killed at least 32 and drove about 300 refugees to seek shelter at a relief camp. Existing forces are insufficient after the latest attacks and additional personnel will be brought in from neighboring states, said Bharat Narah, press adviser to Assam’s chief minister.