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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 November, 2003, 19:54 GMT
Over 17,000 flee Assam violence
Bihari migrants
The wife and children of Tarachand Shah, a victim of recent attacks
More than 17,000 people have fled their homes in north-east India's Assam state to escape attacks on Hindi-speaking settlers by Assamese mobs and rebels.

The refugees, mostly migrant workers from the nearby state of Bihar, are being housed in makeshift camps.

Violence erupted between Assamese and Bihari groups a fortnight ago because of a row over the allocation of jobs.

Over 50 people have died in the clashes, despite a government decision to send troops to calm the situation.

The Ulfa factor

Fresh arrivals are likely to swell refugee numbers in the camps, Assam's home secretary, BN Mazumder, told the BBC.

He warned that attacks on the Hindi-speakers had not stopped.

But he said the state government was making provisions for the fleeing settlers, and would make sure troops had calmed the unrest before they were allowed to return.

In the latest violence, an elderly lady and her grand-daughter were burnt to death by a mob, while an Assamese guerilla fighter was killed by security forces.

India's home minister, CP Thakur, has said that many of the attacks are the work of rebels from the United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa).

He said the rebels, who claim to be fighting for a separate ethnic Assamese state, have used the bases in neighbouring Bangladesh to launch the attacks.

Bangladesh has denied Indian militants are operating on its soil.

Railway rivalry

It is unclear how many Hindi-speakers of Bihari origin remain in Assam after the recent violence.

An organisation representing the Hindi-speakers, the Purbottar Hindibhasi Sammelan, said that at least 10,000 of their community had already fled Assam state.

The Sammelan has called for more troops to be deployed to prevent further violence.

Passenger complains to guard
Assamese train passengers were recently targeted by Bihari mobs

Assam's chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, said more troops were on their way and the state's borders with Bangladesh and Bhutan would be sealed.

Ethnic Assamese rebels have long resented the authority outsiders from the state supposedly enjoy there.

Correspondents say Ulfa's previous targets have been educated or affluent Bengalis and Nepalis - but the latest attacks on Biharis mean some of Assam's poorest people are also targets.

The most immediate cause of the clashes is competition over jobs at the state-run railways.

Over a week ago, train passengers arriving in Bihar state from Assam became the target of attacks by mobs.

The Bihar mobs were angry that youths in Assam had physically prevented candidates from Bihar from taking recruitment interviews for jobs at the state-run Indian Railways.


SEE ALSO:
Fearful settlers flee Assam attacks
25 Nov 03  |  South Asia
Bihari settlers killed in Assam
19 Nov 03  |  South Asia
Indian PM firm on Assam violence
20 Nov 03  |  South Asia
Q&A: India's violent north-east
21 Nov 03  |  South Asia


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