Indian troops try to quell violence in northeast
ADD STATE - Indian firefighters try to douse a fire that broke out at a police station in Kokrajhar, India, Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Government troops sent to quell communal clashes over land rights in the northeast Indian state of Assam were under orders Tuesday to shoot suspected rioters on sight after some 21 people were killed in machete attacks and dozens of homes were burned to the ground. (AP Photo)
Nearly 200,000 people have fled homes in western Assam state, bundling meager belongings in cloths and crowding into government camps for protection from violence that erupted late last week. Hundreds of wood and thatch houses have been burned.
Police said they have discovered dozens of bodies hacked with machetes and dumped in the jungle or by roadsides since the violence broke out in the district of Kokrajhar. The clashes pit members of the ethnic Bodo community against Muslim settlers who mostly came from the former East Pakistan before it became Bangladesh in 1971.
The groups have long accused each other of stealing land and clashed repeatedly over the years.
Army and paramilitary soldiers have fatally shot five people since receiving a mandate on Tuesday to shoot rioters on sight, Assam Home Secretary G.D. Tripathy said. Authorities on Wednesday reported an additional two people dead, bringing the overall toll to 34, and said the violence had spread within four districts.
Mobs ripped off corrugated tin rooftops from wooden and thatch homes before setting them on fire. In most cases, residents had left the homes before they were attacked.
Officials lifted a 24-hour curfew in the area for a few hours to allow people to collect food from shops.
Desperate residents piled into jeeps and atop open carts drawn by water buffalo to join caravans fleeing areas of violence.
Women crowded into camps wept over the uncertain fate of loved ones and the loss of their homes. Relief workers were desperately searching for doctors and nurses to tend to the ill and injured.
Railway lines and roads were closed amid widespread protests, with men sitting on the tracks to demand that authorities restore security and order. On Tuesday, mobs hurled stones and bricks at the flagship Rajdhani Express, forcing it to reverse course and leave Assam.
Assam's lawmakers, from all parties, were visiting the area to plead for peace.
Wasbir Hussain reported from Assam's main city of Gauhati.
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