22 killed in Muslim village attacks
Published 02/05/2014 | 06:52
Separatist rebels wearing black masks have opened fire on Muslim villagers and set their homes on fire in remote north-eastern India, killing at least 22 people over two days.
The gunmen were members of the Bodo tribe belonging to a faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, police said.
It was the worst outbreak of violence in the region in two years, and the dead included six women and three children, officers added.
Police said the first attack took place in western Assam state, when at least eight rebels opened fire on a group of villagers sitting in a courtyard. Four people were killed and two wounded.
The second attack happened in Kokrajhar district when more than 20 armed men broke open the doors of two homes and sprayed them with bullets, killing seven people, witnesses said.
The violence comes at a time of heightened security during the country's general election, with voting taking place over six weeks.
Bodo tribesmen have long accused Muslims of sneaking into India illegally from Bangladesh and encroaching on their ancestral land in Assam state.
Tensions have been high since a Bodo politician for the federal parliament criticised Muslims for not voting for the Bodo candidate, according to a Muslim youth organisation called the All Bodoland Muslim Students' Union.
In 2012, weeks of violence between Bodo people and Muslims killed as many as 100 people in the same area.
The National Democratic Front of Bodoland has been fighting for a separate homeland for the region's ethnic Bodo people for decades. The Bodos are an indigenous tribe in Assam, making up 10% of the state's 33 million people.
Dozens of rebels groups have been fighting the government and sometimes each other for years in the seven states in north-east India. They demand greater regional autonomy or independent homelands for the indigenous groups they represent.
The rebels accuse the federal government of exploiting the region's rich mineral resources but neglecting the local people.
At least 10,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in Assam state in the last three decades.