22 arrested after Muslims killed
Police in India have arrested 22 people for helping separatist rebels accused of killing 29 Muslims in the worst outbreak of ethnic violence in the remote north-eastern region in two years.
Authorities called in the army to restore order in Assam state and imposed an indefinite curfew in the wake of the violence blamed on rebels from the Bodo tribe, who have long accused Muslim residents of sneaking into India illegally from neighbouring Bangladesh.
No fresh violence was reported today.
A state minister for border areas, Siddique Ahmed, said after visiting the violence-hit areas that his government and the ruling Congress party failed to protect the victims, who included at least eight children.
"Even two-year-old children who could barely walk have been shot dead. I have never witnessed such scenes in my life," he told reporters.
Prime minister Manmohan Singh condemned the violence and urged the people to remain calm. He asked state authorities to take urgent steps to restore normality in the troubled area.
"The attacks were cowardly attempts to spread fear and terror among people," he said.
Regional police inspector general L. R. Bishnoi said those arrested either burned homes or provided shelter to the insurgents.
He said the rebels belong to a faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, which has been fighting for a separate homeland for the ethnic Bodo people for decades. The Bodos are an indigenous tribe in Assam, making up 10% of the state's 33 million people.
However, the rebel faction in an email to reporters today denied the charge and blamed the killings on the state government.
The violence comes during India's multiphase general election, with voting concluding this month. Tensions have been high since a Bodo MP in India's parliament criticised Muslims for not voting for the Bodo candidate, said Lafikul Islam Ahmed, leader of a Muslim youth organisation called the All Bodoland Muslim Students' Union.
Police said that in the third and most recent attack on Friday evening, militants entered a village in the western Baksa district and set at least 40 Muslim homes ablaze before opening fire. Assam's additional director general of police R.M. Singh said 11 bodies, all of them shot to death, were recovered.
Another seven bodies were recovered today, Bishnoi said.
Police also rescued three children hiding in a forest in Baksa district, he said.
The first attack took place in the same district late Thursday night when at least eight rebels opened fire on villagers sitting in a courtyard. Four people were killed and two were wounded, police said. The second attack happened around midnight in Kokrajhar district when more than 20 armed men, their faces covered with black hoods, broke open the doors of two homes and sprayed bullets inside, killing seven people, witnesses said.