Army patrols Assam streets as thousands flee

Security forces patrolled deserted streets on Wednesday after days of ethnic riots in Assam killed at least 36 people, forced tens of thousands to flee their razed homes and shut down road and rail transport.

The government deployed about 1,000 soldiers to restore calm after police struggled to quell waves of violence between Bodo tribes people and Muslim settlers. The clashes first erupted at the weekend.

Gunbattles between police and roving mobs of rioters armed with guns, machetes and sticks had continued overnight, despite police warnings that violators would be shot on sight if they broke a curfew. Police said at least one rioter was killed.

The violence appeared to have ebbed on Wednesday. 'Thankfully, things have calmed down quite a bit in the past 24-28 hours,' an army spokesman said.

But safety fears left at least 30 passenger trains and 20 goods trains carrying grains and medicines stranded along a narrow corridor that connects the state to the rest of India on Wednesday. Three trains were able to move later in the day. Some trains carrying tea and petroleum products - key economic resources in the state - were also stuck.

About 150,000 people had been displaced by the violence, although some have returned to their homes, Shambhu Singh, a joint secretary at home ministry, told reporters during a visit to Assam.

In one refugee camp, set up in a school, people feared more attacks and worried about shortages of essential supplies.

'Till now, no police official has visited our camp. There is no supply of food, no medicines. We don't even have enough fire wood for cooking,' said 35-year-old Mohammad Aharan Sheikh, a farmer who sought shelter at the school.


The Centre has directed the Assam government to nab the 'ring leaders' involved in ethnic violence in the state but ruled out a Bangladeshi hand in the trouble which so far has claimed 40 lives.

Union home secretary RK Singh also said 2,000 central security personnel have been deputed to guard Guwahati-bound trains and railway tracks which were disrupted.

'We have asked the state government to book ring leaders of both sides so that violence can be checked immediately. No one involved in the violence will be spared,' Singh told reporters here.

Asked about claims that some people involved in the clash might have links with neighbouring Bangladesh, Singh ruled out the possibility of involvement of anyone from across the border.

'The international border is sealed. It is simply impossible for any organized group crossing over to India from across the border to carry out the attacks,' he said.

He said 1,000 paramilitary personnel and 1,000 Railway Protection Force personnel have been deputed to guard Assam-bound trains and tracks for smooth running of trains to the northeast.  

Singh said 2,500 paramilitary personnel have reached Assam to assist the local administration while 2,300 more men will reach the state tonight. 'Another 15 companies (1,500 personnel) are on their way,' he said.


The railways on Wednesday started the movement of freight trains and expected soon to resume passenger train services, suspended for more than 48 hours, an official said. While the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) authorities have already started moving the goods trains from Wednesday morning, they are expecting to move the passenger trains by the evening.

'We have started movement of freight trains from 11.25 am on Wednesday and hope to start movement of passenger trains soon,' NF Railway chief operating officer Mukul Marwah said.

'We hope the normal movement of trains will resume in next 12 to 14 hours,' he said. Marwah admitted the Bodoland violence was one of the worst ever crisis situations faced by the NF Railway - the only rail line that connects the northeastern states with the mainland of the country.

The NFR had stopped movement of all trains as they had to pass through the violence-affected areas and attacks on trains and passengers were feared. 'A total of 36 trains had been halted at various stations,' Marwah said.
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