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Tribal clashes uproot thousands in NE India

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 6 Jan 2011 15:23 GMT
Author: Biswajyoti Das
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GUWAHATI, India (AlertNet) - At least four people have been killed and up to 10,000 left homeless after ethnic clashes between two rival tribes in India's northeast, police and officials say.

Three tribesmen were bludgeoned to death during the fighting between the Garo and Rabha tribes who live along the border between India's Assam and Meghalaya states, while another was shot by police trying to control a mob razing rival villages to the ground.

Government officials said up to 10,000 people - mostly Rabhas - have fled their villages after the attacks, and have taken refuge in nearly a dozen makeshift shelters along both sides of the state border.

"Rabhas living in Meghalaya suffered the most as their houses were set on fire and they fled to our side," said P.C. Goswami, a senior civil servant in Assam.

Around 40 people from the Rabha community are still missing, according to local villagers.

Officials say there is a history of tension between the two groups. The Garo tribe has been protesting about strikes orchestrated by its rival, saying they disrupt movement and day-to-day activities.

Police say the violence was sparked on New Year's Eve after Garos were accused of failing to adhere to a Rabha strike. Clashes escalated and eight villages were burnt down.

"Rumours have aggravated the situation and led to the killings and mayhem," said H.D.R. Lyngdoh, Meghalaya's home minister.

Authorities have imposed a curfew in Assam's Goalpara district and Meghalaya's East Garo Hills district where the fighting took place. Hundreds of paramilitary and soldiers have also been deployed to control the situation and restore peace.

India's remote northeastern states have been ravaged by 50 years of bloody conflicts, and the region is a turbulent mix of languages, races, religions and civilisations - including 400 tribal and sub-tribal groups, many of whom fear loss of identity.

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