Suspected separatist rebels shot and killed 42 migrant workers and wounded 19 others in at least 10 separate attacks in India’s remote northeast, officials said.
The attacks targeted poor, Hindi-speaking migrants in the state of Assam, and suspicion immediately fell on the rebel United Liberation Front of Asom, which is fighting for an independent homeland for the region’s Assamese speaking people, the state’s police chief, R.N. Mathur, said.
The shootings were the worst spate of violence in recent years, and raised fears the ULFA was seeking to broaden its insurgency following the breakdown of peace talks last year.
The most lethal attack was today’s pre-dawn shooting of 13 workers while they slept in the remote town of Sadiya, 370 miles east of Assam’s capital Gauhati, said local administrative officer Absar Hazarika.
On Friday night 29 people were shot dead in several incidents in the tea-growing districts of Tinsukia and Dibrugarh, 310 to 370 miles east of Gauhati, Mathur said.
ULFA has not claimed responsibility for the attacks, although rebel officials don’t usually comment on such incidents.
“Intensive operations against the ULFA militants are being carried out jointly by the army, police and paramilitary (forces),” said Mathur, who added the operations were proceeding slowly because of difficult terrain.
Separately, a bomb exploded Saturday on an express train running from New Delhi to the city of Dibrugarh in Assam, but there were no casualties, railway spokesman T. Rabha said. Officials were not sure if the rebels were behind that attack as well.
ULFA, fighting for an independent homeland since 1979, stepped up its violent campaign after the Indian government called off peace talks and a six-week temporary truce in September and resumed military offensives.
At least 10,000 people, most of them civilians, have died in Assam because of fighting between government forces and ULFA, as well as another separatist group, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland.
Migrant workers, most of them from Bihar, another poor Indian state, are a favourite target of the insurgents.
The attacks also came as Assam was preparing to hold the National Games, India’s biggest sporting event, next month.