Assam attacks toll rises to 28, PM says it’s cowardly

Guwahati/New Delhi : The toll in the twin attacks in Assam Saturday rose to 28, as the state government decided to hand over the probe to the NIA while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described it as a “cowardly attempt to spread fear and terror”.

As many as 22 people were arrested in connection with the violence as eight more bodies were recovered Saturday, officials said.

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“Eight bodies have been recovered today (Saturday), taking the toll to 28 so far,” Inspector General of Police (Law and Order) S.N. Singh told IANS Saturday evening.

There has been no fresh incident of violence since Friday, he said.

Violence erupted in the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) Thursday night when armed cadres of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) opened indiscriminate fire in two villages. The second attack took place in Kokrajhar district Friday.

Protesting the attacks, a mob Saturday burnt down two camps of the state forest department in Baksa’s Gobardhana area.

Manmohan Singh said the “attacks are cowardly attempts to spread fear and terror among our citizens”.

“The government stands committed to fighting terror in all its forms,” he said in a statement.

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said in Guwahati: “Since there is involvement of the NDFB anti-talk faction militants, we have decided to hand over the probe to the National Investigation Agency.”

The violence has also led people to abandon their homes and take shelter in relief camps set up by district administrations.

A statement issued by the Assam government Saturday evening said 60 families have been evacuated from one village in Baksa district and taken to a relief camp.

The prime minister said the “people of Assam have been braving terrorist attacks with courage and fortitude in the past. They have voted in large numbers in the polling for the general elections and I am confident they will continue to fight terror resolutely”.

The staggered elections in Assam for its 14 parliamentary constituencies took place April 7, 12 and 24.

Earlier, Home Commissioner G.D. Tripathy told IANS that the bodies were recovered from Salbari area in Baksa district Saturday morning.

“Armed assailants belonging to the NDFB anti-talk faction attacked two villages in Salbari area near the Manas National Park,” he said.

The victims included women and children, the home commissioner added.

Gogoi said the situation has slightly improved in Kokrajhar and Baksa district Saturday and there was no fresh incident of violence.

He said the state government has been doing its best to secure the lives of civilians in Kokrajhar and Baksa. Gogoi cancelled his scheduled visit to Germany following the violence.

“The central government is rushing in another 10 companies of CRPF in addition to the 10 companies already despatched to the violence-hit areas. Steps are being taken to intensify patrolling with the help of the army and paramilitary forces, to set up more outposts and to form peace committees comprising people of all communities to bring back peace in the trouble-torn areas,” said Gogoi, who later convened a cabinet meeting to discuss the issue.

There were conflicting views on what caused the violence.

Police suspect the attacks were in retaliation to the ongoing anti-insurgency operation by the security forces in the BTAD region, where some NDFB militants have been killed recently.

However, media reports Saturday said the violence could be linked to the voting pattern in the general elections.

Assam’s Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) A.P. Raut Saturday said curfew was relaxed for a few hours in Kokrajhar and Chirang districts. However, the indefinite curfew continued in worst-hit Baksa district.

He said that 22 people have been arrested.

“There has been adequate deployment (of security forces) and the army carried out a flag march for the second day today (Saturday) in affected areas…,” Raut said.

Three companies of central paramilitary forces have already been deployed in each of the violence-hit districts. “More forces are coming and they would be deployed soon,” he said.

Gogoi also said the state government has requested the Centre to deploy a special force of the CRPF called Cobra in the BTAD areas.