[Security personnel at Narsingbari in Baksa district of Assam where some people were killed by militants on Friday]
Guwahati, (Hindustan Times): Nine more bodies were recovered in Baksa district in Assam on Saturday, taking the toll to 32 in the sectarian violence unleashed presumably by Bodo tribal militants.
The bodies of the victims, including four children and two women, were recovered from Khagrabari village adjacent to the Manas National Park, official sources said.
Three children, aged between seven and ten years, who were hiding in a forest on the banks of river Beki were also rescued, sources added.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is keeping a close watch on the developments. He was briefed by National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon on the situation, PTI reported, quoting PMO sources as saying.
Tension has gripped the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD) comprising Kokrajhar, Baksa, Chirang and Udalguri since Thursday after gunmen attacked immigrant Muslims after they allegedly voted for a non-Bodo candidate in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The Assam Police suspect the anti-talks Sangbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB-S) was behind the attacks on several villages in western Assam’s Baksa and Kokrajhar districts.
Kokrajhar is the headquarters of the ethnically volatile areas under Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), which is ruled by the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), a constituent of the Congress-led government in Assam.
Till Friday, 23 casualties were reported in the region. However, there were apprehensions that the toll could go up as many were missing.
“This (Saturday) morning, some bodies were recovered from a village near the Manasa National Park in Baksa,” said GD Tripathy, home commissioner of the Assam government.
Houses in several minority-dominated villages were set ablaze by armed men on Friday night. Thousands have left their homes in a grim reminder of the 2012 ethnic riots.
Indefinite curfew has been clamped in Chirang, Baksa and Kokrajhar districts. Ten army columns have been deployed in the sensitive areas, where a shoot-on-sight order has been issued.
AP Raut, Assam Police’s additional director general (law and order), said 22 persons were arrested in the last 24 hours.
“Five companies of CRPF have already arrived. Four more companies are on their way. Three companies have been deployed in Kokrajhar and rest would be deployed in Baksa,” Raut said.
Of the 32 people killed in the last two days, 24 people were from Baksa district.
The administration in BTC-adjoining Dhubri district has opened up two relief camps, fearing a rerun of the 2012 communal clashes that took the lives of 108 people.
Two years ago, clashes between the indigenous Bodo tribe and immigrant Muslims had killed more than 100 people in the region.
Bodo people charge Muslims with illegally entering from Bangladesh and encroaching on their ancestral lands.
An umbrella group of 21 non-Bodo organisations has attributed the fresh violence to BPF legislator Pramila Rani Brahma’s view on April 30 that her party candidate (for Kokrajhar seat) and Assam minister Chandan Brahma could find it hard to win because Muslims did not vote for him.
Violence had preceded polling in Kokrajhar on April 24.
Muslims are a major constituent of this group that fielded Naba Kumar alias Hira Sarania, a former United Liberation Front of Asom rebel, as an independent candidate in Kokrajhar.
Non-Bodos including other tribes have never won this seat despite constituting two-thirds of the population.
“BPF chief Hagrama Mohilary is responsible for instigating his cadres to attack non-Bodo villagers, particularly Muslims, because his party has realised it could lose the Kokrajhar seat,” Sarania has said.
Mohilary has refuted Sarania’s claim, saying BPF was not responsible for the killings. “We urge the religious minorities not to flee their villages. We will provide them protection.”
Congress leader Abdul Khaleque has sought Pramila Rani’s arrest for her ‘incendiary’ comment while All Assam Minority Students’ Union Abdur Rahim said the BTC administration had planned the mayhem after the votes were cast.
Chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who cancelled his trip to Germany following the violence, has appealed for peace and announced, “We will provide Rs. 3 lakh as ex-gratia for the next of kin of each victim while the centre will pitch in with another Rs. 3lakh.” (With PTI inputs)