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India sends more troops to strife-torn Assam

July 27, 2012

BIJNI (India), July 26: Indian authorities rushed more troops to a remote northeastern state on Thursday to quell ethnic violence that has killed dozens over the past week and left villagers frightened to return to the remnants of their homes.    

Clashes between members of the ethnic Bodo community and Muslim settlers in Assam state have left 42 people dead and 13 others missing, state officials said. Six of the 42 were killed by security forces, who were given a mandate on Tuesday to shoot rioters on sight.

The killing of four Bodo men last week sparked off violent attacks by Bodo tribespeople on Muslim villages.

Hundreds of homes were torched and more than 200,000 people fled their homes for relief camps set up in schools and government buildings.

On Thursday, Assam's Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi met Bodo and Muslim leaders in an effort to defuse tensions and restore peace, while the federal government ordered more troops to be sent to the three worst-hit districts, Kokrajhar, Dibrugarh and Chirang. A curfew has helped curtail the violence, but the situation remains uneasy and tense, said local officials. Police reported sporadic incidents of violence in Chirang as armed bands of Bodo youth roamed the deserted villages.    Soldiers have orders to shoot to kill arsonists and a 24-hour curfew is in place, said G. D. Tripathi, Assam's home secretary. There are already 6,000 army and paramilitary soldiers on the ground. They have marched through towns and villages in a show of force to give residents confidence to return to their homes.

Thousands of frightened villagers are crammed into about 125 relief camps hastily set up by local administrators.

Each day there is a scramble for limited supplies of water and food. Harried officials are trying to provide food, clothes and mattresses for the streams of people who have lost all their possessions. Among them is a dazed-looking Laily Begum, a mother of three small children. On Sunday, Begum's husband was hacked to death by sword-wielding attackers near the town of Bijni in Chirang.—AP