Tue, Jan 24, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Explosions, killings rock Assam

ESCALATION Suspected rebel-separatists stepped up their attacks in Assam, killing two and wounding eight, as India gets ready to celebrate Republic Day

AP , GAUHATI, INDIA

Indian soldiers from the Border Security Force ride camels during a full dress rehearsal yesterday for the country's upcoming Republic Day parade in New Delhi. Rebels fighting for an independent homeland have stepped up their attacks in Assam in the run-up to the holiday celebrating India's transition to a republic on Jan. 26, 1950.

PHOTO: AFP

Power was out in parts of northeastern India's Assam state yesterday after suspected rebels blew up four natural gas pipelines, killed two people and wounded eight in attacks ahead of a national holiday.

The violence on Sunday -- targeting security forces and pipelines belonging to state-owned Assam Gas Co -- appeared to follow through on separatist militants' threats.

The attacks shut down a regional gas-run electricity plant in the town of Kathalguri, leaving some areas without power until at least Wednesday as engineers try to restore a 6m stretch of pipeline, said B.C. Sharma, managing director of Assam Gas.

The attacks also led to the closure of nine gas wells by state-owned Oil India Ltd, said a company spokesman, Nripen Bharali.

In addition, the blasts disrupted a crude oil pipeline in eastern Assam's Moran region, Bharali said. Some of the oil pipeline components run on natural gas.

"We have been forced to transport crude through tankers, causing a slowdown in movement," he said.

Security has been tightened across India's northeast where several insurgent groups, many based among ethnic minorities, have been fighting Indian security forces for years.

The violence often peaks just before Republic Day, the anniversary of the 1950 signing of India's constitution. It falls on Thursday this year.

The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) which has been fighting for an independent homeland since 1979, is among three northeastern rebel groups to have ordered a Republic Day boycott.

The first killing on Sunday occurred when militants lobbed a hand grenade at a security checkpoint in the state capital, Gauhati, killing a civilian passer-by and injuring three security officers, said state Inspector General of Police Dilip Bora.

Separately, a state police officer was killed when militants ambushed him near Borpathar town, 300km east of Gauhati.

Two other grenade attacks occurred on Sunday near a Gauhati police station, injuring two police officers and three civilians, Bora said.

No one claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Bora said officials suspected ULFA militants.

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