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Last Updated: Monday, 8 January 2007, 09:59 GMT
Nine die in fresh Assam violence
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Dibrugarh, Assam

Indian army soldier in Assam
Additional forces are being sent to Assam
Suspected separatist rebels have carried out more attacks on Hindi-speaking migrants in a fourth day of violence in India's Assam state.

Gunmen attacked a roadside colony of brick factory workers and shot dead seven of them at 0230 local time.

Police say 69 people have died in the state's worst violence in a decade.

Authorities blame the attacks on the United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa) rebels, who are fighting for an independent homeland.

Thousands of Hindi-speaking migrants are fleeing the attacks.

Talks between the federal government and Ulfa collapsed in September after which the rebels unleashed a series of bomb and grenade attacks across the state.

Wider fears

Police said seven to eight armed men attacked the labour colony at Tekonbari village, near Dimow town.

They opened fire at the labourers, killing seven people and injuring one.

The attackers were intercepted by the police and one rebel was killed in the encounter.

In a separate incident, police say the rebels killed a local Congress party leader, Ajit Deuri, giving rise to fears that they may now start targeting supporters of India's main ruling party, that also governs Assam.

On Sunday evening, hooded gunmen killed at least seven Hindi-speaking labourers at a brick kiln in the northern Sivasagar district.

On Friday and Saturday, rebels attacked six colonies of Hindi-speaking labourers in the northern districts of Dibrugarh and Tinsukia, killing 48 settlers.

Map of Assam

All across the violence-affected districts of Assam, railway stations are crowded with thousands of Hindi speaking settlers waiting to catch the next train out of the state.

"The local police just cannot save us so we must leave or get killed," said Parshuram Gupta at Longsual village near Dibrugarh.

Mr Gupta lost his son, Arvind, during the first wave of rebel attacks on Friday.

"Save us or else Ulfa will kill us all. They hate us," another villager, Naresh Prasad, said.

Hundreds of angry Hindi-speaking settlers have set up road blocks on a national highway near here, lining up the road with the bodies of some of those killed.

'Not negotiable'

They were chanting slogans against Ulfa as well as the Assam government, blaming the former for the murder and the latter for alleged failure to protect them.

During his visit to Longsual on Sunday, India's junior Home Minister, Sriprakash Jaiswal, tried to reassure the Hindi-speaking settlers.

"You just stay put and we will crush Ulfa within six months," the minister told them.

Later, speaking to reporters, Mr Jaiswal ruled out talks with Ulfa, unless they gave up their demands for Assam's independence and abjured violence.

"India's sovereignty is not negotiable, we can talk only if Ulfa talks sense. But we will not talk if they hold a gun to our head," he said.

Mr Jaiswal said 3,000 additional paramilitary troops were being sent to Assam and more would follow if needed.

The minister said a joint police-military operation would soon be started against the rebels over a vast tract of northern Assam.

The operation will also encompass a large forest area of the neighbouring sate of Arunachal Pradesh where Ulfa has some bases which, officials say, were used in recent attacks.

Assam police officials say the rebels may further intensify their violent campaign ahead of India's Republic Day celebrations later this month (on 26 January ) and the Indian National Games, scheduled to be held in Assam in February.

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