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Monday, 13 March, 2000, 19:32 GMT
Assam to arm villagers
Weapons
There is an increasing tendency to take up arms


By Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta

India's north-eastern state of Assam has decided to arm villagers living on the border with neighbouring Nagaland state, following the forcible occupation of its land.

An Assam government official told the BBC that Naga tribesmen were encroaching on Assam's villages, and that the Nagaland Government was laying claim to the territory being occupied.

Gun battles

There is a long history of animosity between Assam and Nagaland.

Police in the two states have at times fought gun battles across the disputed border, a legacy of the historical circumstances in which a separate state was created out of the Naga Hills of Assam.

Assam chief minister
Assam Chief Minister PK Mahanta is concerned
The worst battle was reported in 1985, when at least 40 policemen on both sides were killed.

Assam alleges that Nagaland has encroached on several thousand kilometres of its territory.

Now the Assam government has decided to arm villagers living along the border.

'Village defence forces'

An Assam government official said that Naga tribesmen were regularly encroaching on the villages of Assam and forcibly occupying land by scaring away Assamese villagers.

The official said the government would seek to issue at least five gun permits to each village.

He said local village defence forces would be built up around these armed villagers, so that encroachers could be dealt with by force if necessary.

Nagaland has reacted angrily to this announcement, accusing the Assam government of provoking tensions.

It warned that Assam would be held responsible for any outbreak of violence.

But the Assam government says the rampant encroachment of its forest areas cannot otherwise be stopped.
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See also:

09 Mar 00 | South Asia
Assam call for action against rebels
27 Feb 00 | South Asia
Assam minister assassinated
21 Jan 00 | South Asia
Funds for India's north-east
21 Dec 99 | South Asia
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