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Violence by Suspected Rebels Continues in India's Northeast

22 January 2007

In India's northeastern state of Assam at least two people were killed and 18 others wounded in recent attacks mounted by separatist rebels. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, sporadic violence has continued to rock the region since early this month.

In the worst incident, reported on Sunday, police say a powerful blast rocked a crowded vegetable market in Barpeta district in Assam state. A motorcycle packed with explosives blew up outside a railway station in the west of the state. And in the east, a local Congress party leader was shot dead in his home.

All the attacks were blamed on suspected rebels of the United Liberation Front of Assam, which is fighting for an independent homeland for the Assamese people.

Most of those killed or wounded were poor migrant workers. Earlier this month the rebels allegedly killed 70 non-Assamese laborers in a spate of deadly attacks.

A security analyst with New Delhi's Center for Policy Research, Bharat Karnad, says the government has failed to take a tough stand against the insurgents for fear of losing local support.

"Both the state government, which is Congress-Party run, and the coalition government at the center which is also headed by the Congress party are unwilling to take harsh measures lest they alienate some of the Assamese voters," Karnad said. "This is the problem, the lack of political effort or will to resolve it to India's satisfaction keeping in mind the national interest."

The surge in violence comes four months after Indian authorities called off a six-week truce and peace talks with the group and resumed a military offensive.

Several analysts say the truce gave the insurgents an opportunity to regroup. They blame the government for not following a consistent policy against the rebels - sometimes offering talks, at other times ordering a military crackdown.

Since the latest attacks, the government has stepped-up its crackdown against the rebels. Hundreds of troops have fanned out into remote jungles in the hilly state in a bid to flush out the militants.

Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee has also urged Burma to evict anti-India insurgent groups operating from its territory. India and Burma share an unfenced border that New Delhi says helps the rebels make quick getaways after mounting attacks.

Analysts such as Karnad agree. They say the easy sanctuary the rebels find in Burma and Bangladesh makes it difficult for the Indian army to eliminate the insurgents.

"That makes things far more difficult for the Indian army, because the Indian army generally tries to keep on this side of the border, and does not have political permission to engage in hot pursuit," Karnad said.

The United Liberation Front of Assam's 30-year old campaign for a separate homeland for the Assamese people has been fueled by two broad grievances. The rebels say migrant workers take away scarce jobs and the federal government has done little to develop a poor but resource-rich region.

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