Assam toll rises to 71, Rajnath Singh reviews situation

Guwahati: The toll in the violence unleashed by Bodo militants rose to 71 Wednesday, even as Home Minister Rajnath Singh, accompanied by two union ministers, reached Assam and reviewed the law and order situation with Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and other top officials.

Rajnath Singh was accompanied by Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju and Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram.

He reviewed the law and order situation with Gogoi, Director General of Police Khagen Sarma, Chief Secretary Jitesh Khosla and other heads of security forces in the state, the Chief Minister's Office (CMO) here said.

Rajnath Singh and Gogoi both said during the meeting that there will be no compromise on security and stringent steps will be taken to contain the situation.

"The chief minister requested for 55 companies of central paramilitary forces and the home minister agreed. The home minister assured Gogoi that these 55 companies will not be withdrawn from the state immediately, and will be withdrawn only after proper consultation with him (Gogoi)," the sources said.

Gogoi asked Rajnath Singh to institute a probe by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), to which too the home minister agreed, the CMO said after the meeting.

All the three union ministers will visit the violence-affected areas Thursday.

Three people were killed Wednesday, when police fired at angry adivasis who took to the streets, a day after Bodo militants massacred 65 unarmed tribals.

The violence, which was started Tuesday evening by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) faction opposed to peace talks.

In a probable retaliatory attack Wednesday, suspected adivasis killed three Bodo people at a village near Behali in Sonitpur district.

This brought the death toll to 71. Those slaughtered include 21 women and 18 children.

There were also reports of burning of houses belonging to both communities in many parts of the state.

Police said the violence also spread to neighbouring Udalguri district.

"The central government has taken the matter seriously, and we are going to deal with the militants firmly," Gogoi said. "We are not going to surrender to them. We cannot allow these forces to continue."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed grief over the killings, and Wednesday announced an ex-gratia of Rs.2 lakh each to families of the dead and Rs.50,000 to the seriously injured.

The Assam government has announced ex gratia of Rs.5 lakh to families of the dead and Rs.50,000 to those injured.

The Prime Minister's Office said Rs.86 lakh will be released to the Assam government.

Rijiju said: "It is very unfortunate this kind of violence has taken place... If we have to develop the northeast, peace must prevail."

Both Modi and Rajnath Singh telephoned Gogoi Tuesday night and promised all help to deal with the situation.

The attacks in the three districts of Kokrajhar, Sonitpur and Chirang began around 6.15 p.m. Tuesday, almost simultaneously.

On Wednesday, three people were killed in police firing after thousands of adivasis who took out a procession at Dhekiajuli in Sonitpur district indulged in violence.

The NDFB faction opposed to peace talks had warned it would retaliate after Assam Police launched an operation against them, particularly in the area bordering Bhutan.

Police had Sunday killed two Bodo militants and seized arms and ammunition from them.

Gogoi said: "The NDFB militants have targeted innocent people as they wanted a soft target to retaliate. It is barbaric and inhuman. They have killed minor children. There cannot be any justification for such killings."

He urged the electronic media not to show graphic images of the dead and wounded.

Officials said curfew has been imposed in parts of the three districts.

"Our first priority will be to restore peace. We will take all measures to ensure there is no escalation in the violence," the chief minister said.

Tension has gripped the three districts, where scores of people have fled their homes and taken shelter in safer places fearing further attacks by the militants.

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