Protests erupted in a northeastern Indian state Wednesday, a day after nearly 60 people were killed and about 80 were seriously injured by separatists in the region.
Defying a curfew, angry demonstrators from Assam, armed with bows and arrows, gathered around a police station in Sonitpur district to protest the series of bloody massacres that killed scores of tribal settlers Tuesday night. Some protesters set fire to shops; others blocked roads and a rail line.
Authorities said the deadly attacks were mounted by the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland, a group that has waged a decades-long violent campaign for a separate homeland for Assam’s indigenous Bodo community.
The attacks may have been carried out in retaliation for an offensive that security forces mounted against the National Democratic Front of Bodoland a month ago.
Tuesday's attacks were among the bloodiest in recent times. Villagers gave chilling accounts of how militants dressed in military uniforms arrived on foot and pulled people out of their homes, killing many at point-blank range in coordinated attacks at separate locations in Sonitpur and Kokrajhar districts. Many of the victims in the hourlong spate of violence were women and children.
Hundreds of terrified people took shelter in a church and a school.
Police said at least three Bodos were killed in reprisal attacks Wednesday.
As tensions mounted in the state, Home Minister Rajnath Singh appealed for calm. He called the attacks acts of terror and said authorities would deal with them as firmly as they deal with terrorism.
The federal government rushed in paramilitary forces and put the army on standby.
Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijju vowed to crush the militants, saying there could be no development unless there was peace.
“This is not an ordinary incident in a public place," he said. "This is in a remote, very difficult area. It is a tragic incident for all of us. We will ensure we will improve the situation.”
Remote Assam state is an underdeveloped region that borders Bangladesh and Bhutan. Tensions run high among indigenous people, Muslim settlers who have come from Bangladesh and rival tribes.
The Bodo conflict erupted amid complaints that outsiders have overrun the state, threatening the identity and culture of the indigenous tribe. The government has opened talks in an effort to resolve the conflict, but some hard-liners are opposed to dialogue.
In May, the group accused in the latest massacre was blamed for killing 30 Muslim settlers.