x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

On visit to violence-hit northeast, Indian PM calls for 'healing'

Manmohan Singh's assurances, as well as the announcement of a 3bn rupee aid package, followed clashes in Assam between indigenous Bodo tribes and Muslim settlers over long-running land disputes.

GUWAHATI, India // India's prime minister on Saturday told victims of deadly ethnic riots in the remote northeast it was "a time for healing" and promised a "proper inquiry" into the causes of the violence.

Manmohan Singh's assurances came as police reported five more bodies had been recovered following clashes in Assam between indigenous Bodo tribes and Muslim settlers over long-running land disputes, pushing the death toll to 50.

"I have come here to share your sorrow and pain," Singh told residents of a crowded relief camp in the worst-affected Kokrajhar district who fled their homes to escape the fighting.

"This is a time for healing," said Singh, who represents Assam in the upper house of the Indian parliament, announcing a three billion rupee ($54 million) relief package for the region.

The state government said calm had returned but at least 400,000 people were languishing in the relief camps following the fighting which erupted eight days ago.

"The ethnic conflict which has occurred is unacceptable and must come to a stop," Singh said.

"We must address the causes of the conflict. If the conflict was instigated, the guilty must be punished," said Singh, promising "a proper inquiry into the tragic incidents".

Rival groups from both sides had attacked villages, beating people to death with sticks and burning down homes.

The chief minister of far-flung Assam state, Tarun Gogoi, said the focus of government efforts now has shifted to providing relief to those in the camps while the national government has dispatched medical teams to aid victims.

The chief minister described the violence as the worst crisis his government has faced.

People in the camps have said they were afraid of returning to their homes.

"We are living in fear and we can't even think about going back to our homes," Bimla Basumatary, one of the displaced, told India's NDTV television network.

At least 3,000 extra soldiers and paramilitary personnel are patrolling the region.

The international rights group Human Rights Watch said tensions had been building for more than two months between the Bodo and Muslim communities, which have clashed in the past over access to land and resources.

The group urged authorities to rescind the "shoot-on-sight" orders and "promptly investigate and prosecute those responsible while addressing the underlying causes of the clashes".