Some 2,000 people fled their homes in India's restive eastern state of Assam on Thursday, after 69 people, 18 of them children, lost their lives in separatist violence two days earlier. The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), which has waged a decades-long violent conflict in pursuit of an independent homeland for the Bodo people, has been blamed for the series of coordinated attacks.
Assam, famous for its tea estates, has been the scene of destructive land disputes between the indigenous Bodo Muslim settlers, and other rival tribes. Most of those who lost their lives on Tuesday were tea plantation workers of the Adivasi tribe, a mixt of Hindus and Christians.
"There will be no celebrations for Christmas for us," said one survivor, huddled with her four children in one of the state government's makeshift refugee camps.
An 'act of terror'
A further three people were killed on Wednesday when officers shot at villagers who went to a police station to demand justice over the attacks.
Human rights groups have long criticized the Indian government for ignoring the plight of many marginalized communities in the nation's remote northeastern region. Assam's Home Minister Rajnath Singh, however, pledged that the authorities would be "tough" on those responsible for this "act of terror".
"We have a zero tolerance policy against terrorism. And we have decided that those who carry out such massacres will face the same tough treatment that terrorists do," Singh told the press.
Police have pointed to recent negotiations with the NDFB as a problem impetus for the violence. Certain hardliners in the rebel group opposed the talks.
India's home ministry deployed troops to Assam on Wednesday and introduced a curfew as villagers launched retaliatory attacks on Bodo settlements.
Earlier this year, 10,000 people were forced to flee their homes following a similar outbreak of clashes that left 45 people dead.
es/ksb (AP, AFP)