x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Shoot-on-sight orders to stamp out Assam violence

Trucks loaded with women, children, mattresses and bags of rice rolled into a refugee camp in India's northeastern Assam state yesterday as security forces tried to stamp out some of the worst violence in a decade.

Displaced villagers wait at a relief camp at Bijni village in the Chirang district, some 240km from Guwahati, in India’s northeastern state of Assam. The camp is among nearly 60 hastily set up to cope with an estimated 200,000 refugees.
Displaced villagers wait at a relief camp at Bijni village in the Chirang district, some 240km from Guwahati, in India’s northeastern state of Assam. The camp is among nearly 60 hastily set up to cope with an estimated 200,000 refugees.

BIJNI, INDIA // Trucks loaded with women, children, mattresses and bags of rice rolled into a refugee camp in India's northeastern Assam state yesterday as security forces tried to stamp out some of the worst communal violence in a decade with shoot-on-sight orders.

The death toll from clashes between Bodo tribespeople and Muslim settlers has risen to 44, Assam's chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, said after police reported finding more bodies overnight. Police also opened fire on groups armed with sticks and spears for violating a curfew.

Fearing for their lives, tens of thousands of Muslims and Bodos have fled their homes in remote hamlets along the border with Bhutan, and sought shelter in camps in larger towns. Roving armed bands have set ablaze hundreds of tin-roofed homes, many made of hay and clay, in the nearly week-long violence.

Gogoi said 200,000 people had been displaced by the fighting. The relief camp in a school in the town of Bijni is just one of nearly 60 hastily set up to cope with the flood of refugees, officials said.

Many of the camps lack food, water and security. Angry refugees surrounded a group of state legislators visiting the Bijni camp yesterday and demanded they take action.

"Go back, go back," they chanted. The legislators, clearly rattled by the encounter, cancelled plans to visit another camp and returned to the state capital with a security escort. "There is no security at all," complained Habibur Rahman, 45, who fled to Bijni school camp earlier this week along with his parents, sister, wife and daughter.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who represents Assam in parliament's upper house, may fly to the area tomorrow, his office said.

In recent years, Hindu and Christian tribes have vented strong anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment against settlers from mostly Muslim Bangladesh, which neighbours Assam.

In 1983, at least 2,000 people, mainly Bangladeshi immigrants, were killed in clashes in central Assam, and in 2008 more than 50 people died in fighting between Bodos and Muslim settlers.

The violence of the past week has been concentrated in the Kokrajhar and Chirang districts, situated in a narrow strip of land sandwiched between Bhutan and Bangladesh. Both districts were reported to be quiet overnight after army reinforcements were dispatched to help police and paramilitary forces.

But in recent days the pattern has been for attacks to be carried out under the cover of darkness.

Railway officials said train services between Assam and the rest of India resumed, escorted by "pilot" engines carrying armed guards, after attacks forced a halt earlier this week.