GWAHATI: Troops sent to quell clashes over land rights in northeast India killed five people Tuesday after the government ordered them to shoot suspected rioters on sight.
The killings and the discoveries of more bodies raised the toll from the violence to 32, according to GD Tripathy, the home secretary of the state of Assam.
Another 170,000 people have fled to more than 100 relief camps to avoid the fighting that started Friday between the ethnic Bodo community and Muslim settlers in Assam's western district of Kokrajhar.
Police have found 27 bodies, most of them hacked with machetes and left in the jungle or beside roads or rivers.
Overnight, some 80 homes were burned down as the violence spread to neighboring Dhubri and Chirang districts. No one was injured in the fires because the occupants had already fled to relief camps.
Authorities sent some 5,000 army and paramilitary troops to the region and gave them a mandate to shoot suspected arsonists and rioters on sight, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.
“We have decided to tackle the riots with a firm hand,” Gogoi said.
By Tuesday night, police had shot and killed five people, Tripathy said without giving details. Gogoi said earlier that some rioters were using firearms.
Animosity and accusations of land-stealing have long simmered between Bodos and the thousands of mostly Bengali Muslim settlers, many of whom came from the former East Pakistan before it became Bangladesh in 1971.
The two groups have clashed sporadically since the 1990s and burned each other's homes and property.
The recent violence has severed road and rail links connecting the narrow neck of the northeast to the main body of India, Gogoi said. However, he did not expect food shortages.
A mob of more than 500 people attacked the Indian Railways' showcase Rajdhani Express train Tuesday morning, pelting it with stones and bricks as it crossed the state border from West Bengal, forcing it to reverse course.
RS Moosahary, a Bodo who is governor of nearby Meghalaya, said his hometown in Assam was set on fire during the violence.
“I’m deeply anguished,” he said.