Sun, Nov 23, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Indian rebels on bicycles kill eight


Suspected separatist rebels on bicycles killed eight migrant workers with automatic weapons in the latest ethnic violence to break out in India's northeastern Assam state, the police chief said yesterday.

Two others were critically wounded when suspected members of the United Liberation Front of Asom carried out the attack with AK-56 rifles in Mahakali village in the eastern district of Tinsukia, Khagen Sharma, the state's police chief, told reporters.

The area is located some 600km east of Gauhati, the state capital.

Soon after the killings, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, Assam's top administrator, suspended the police chief and the district magistrate, who is in charge of the local administration.

All the victims were brick factory workers. Tinsukia is the area worst affected by the weeklong ethnic tensions between ethnic Assamese and migrants from neighboring Bihar state over access to government railroad jobs in Assam.

The latest deaths bring to 33 the total of migrant workers from Bihar who have been killed this week.

Some 2,000 soldiers are deployed in 14 of Assam's 24 districts failed to quell the violence.

The United Liberation Front of Asom, or ULFA, one of northeastern India's main separatist groups, issued a statement last week warning Hindi-speaking people to leave Assam.

Since then, sporadic attacks against Hindi speakers have taken place across the state. Around 100 houses have been burned in eastern Assam in the tea-growing Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts, officials have said.

"The army in the two districts have been given full liberty to contain the situation in collaboration with local police and paramilitary," Gogoi, the chief minister, told a public peace rally in Gauhati yesterday. He didn't elaborate.

Junior interior minister I.D.Swami said by telephone from New Delhi that his government was ready to assist state officials with more troops.

Hundreds of Biharis are fleeing Assam in trains and buses, and some 3,000 are in relief camps set up by the government, local officials said.

Biharis and Assamese are of different ethnicity, and people in the northeast resent those from other parts of India coming to take jobs in the economically underdeveloped region. Hindi is India's national language but is not commonly spoken in Assam.

The violence in Assam has prompted reprisals in Bihar, where some mobs have attacked trains carrying Assamese to and from their home state.

Bihari residents going for railroad job examinations have also been mobbed and thrashed in Bombay, hundreds of miles to the west, where Hindu nationalists are leading a campaign against "outsiders."

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