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At least 21 Killed in Indian Ethnic Violence - 2003-05-07

At least 21 people have been killed and several wounded in India's remote northeastern Tripura state in two attacks. Indian officials have blamed the violence on tribal rebel groups.

Police say suspected tribal rebels clad in army uniforms dragged sleeping villagers from their homes in Tripura state, lined them up and shot them at close range. The attack occurred in the Bengali-dominated village, Simnachara, about 25 kilometers north of the state capital, Agartala.

Officials say the rebels continued firing for several minutes before disappearing into nearby forests. The victims included women and children.

All of the victims were Bengali-speaking settlers. The village is just a few kilometers away from Tripura's border with Bangladesh.

It is the worst ethnic violence in the state this year.

Police blamed the attack on the All Tripura Tiger Force, the largest rebel group fighting for an independent nation for Tripura's tribal community.

In the second attack, police say another rebel group raided a village in northern Tripura and shot dead two persons.

Several rebel groups in Tripura are fighting to protect the rights of tribes people. These groups complain that illegal settlers, mostly from neighboring Bangladesh, have swamped the region.

Tribal groups were the majority in Tripura when India gained independence from the British in 1947, but now make up just 30 percent of the state's three million population. The rebels say the settlers threaten the cultural identity of the indigenous population, and exploit the state's rich resources. In the past, rebels have killed or kidnapped many Bengalis in the state.

The rebels accuse the Indian government of not doing enough to halt the influx of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The federal government says it is tightening security along the border between the two countries. Officials in Bangladesh deny that its people cross into India illegally.