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Suspected Separatists Kill More Than 65 in India's Northeast

In India's northeastern state of Assam, the death toll in three days of attacks by suspected militants on migrant workers has risen to more than 65. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, it is the worst violence in years in the region, where separatist rebels have been waging an insurgency for more than two decades.

Hundreds of soldiers are patrolling remote, hilly areas in Assam where suspected militants of the United Liberation Front of Assam or ULFA have killed scores of people in a wave of attacks that began Friday night.

The latest attack took place Sunday, and came despite tight security and shoot-at-sight orders.

Most of the victims are poor, migrant laborers from other parts of India. Some of them were gunned down as they slept in their homes.

Hundreds of people have blocked highways and held angry demonstrations since the violence erupted. Many panicked migrant workers are fleeing the state. Authorities are planning to move others to government shelters.

This is not the first time that the ULFA has been accused of targeting migrant workers. The group is fighting for an independent homeland for the Assamese people, who are ethnically distinct from the rest of the country. The rebels blame the Hindi-speaking migrants for taking away scarce jobs and the federal government for ignoring the development needs of the region, which is rich in resources but remains backward.

The latest attacks follow the failure of peace efforts last year. A truce was called off in September and the government resumed a military offensive after militants said they would only hold talks if jailed leaders were freed.

Security forces have intensified their counter insurgency operations after the latest attacks, fanning out into militant strongholds.

Junior Home Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal visited the state on Sunday.

He strongly condemned the attacks and says the government will take measures to tighten security in the area.

Assam's Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is also promising tough measures to deal with the latest violence. But he says authorities are also ready to hold peace talks.

"It is not a positive signal. We are keen for talks, keen for solution of the problem," Gogoi says.

Nearly 10,000 people, mostly civilians have died in Assam since 1979 when ULFA, along with several other insurgent groups, began fighting Indian security forces. The northeast is one of India's most isolated and restive regions.