A day after suspected National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit) militants targeted Adivasis in coordinated attacks in five different places in Sonitpur and Kokrajhar districts, the toll rose to 70 on Wednesday, including 21 women and 18 children.
While 62 Adivasis — 37 in Sonitpur and 25 in Kokrajhar — were killed in Tuesday’s attacks, they reportedly hit back on Wednesday, killing five Bodos — three in Chirang and two in Sonitpur. Three other persons were killed when police opened fire on a group of protesters in Dhekiajuli today. The death toll is likely to increase.
The militants targeted two villages in Sonitpur and three in Kokrajhar district at around 5:30 pm on Tuesday, opening indiscriminate fire with automatic AK-series weapons on villagers — all from Adivasi communities like Santhals, Bheels and Mundas. On Wednesday morning, dozens of houses belonging to both Bodo and Adivasi communities were looted and set on fire in Phulbari-Sonajuli. The mobs also took away cattle, pigs and poultry from abandoned homesteads.
#PresidentMukherjee strongly condemns killings in Assam , says such acts of terror & violence must be put down with a firm hand.
— President of India (@RashtrapatiBhvn) December 24, 2014
“It should not be treated as a militancy problem alone. We will treat it as an act of terror. The government has taken a very serious view about the incident,” said Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who chaired a high-level meeting of IB, Army and MHA officials in Delhi.
The issue has also caught the attention of the RSS. Sources said a senior RSS functionary has taken up the matter with Singh. The Home Minister later left for Assam, accompanied by Minister of State Kiren Rijiju and other senior officials.
I spoke to Assam CM Shri Tarun Gogoi & Home Minister Rajnath ji. Rajnath ji will travel to Assam and take stock of the situation.
Killing of innocent people in Sonitpur & Kokrajhar is an act of cowardice. Our thoughts & prayers are with the families of the deceased.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 23, 2014
The government has decided to launch an all-out offensive against the NDFB(S), which has been held responsible for the killings. Fifty companies of paramilitary forces have been rushed to Assam. “The Army’s 4 Corps, which is stationed there, has also been asked to join the operations against NDFB(S),” said a senior officer who attended the meeting.
According to officials, the state IB and the Assam Police had intercepted conversations which indicated that the militants were planning an attack on Tuesday. “On the morning of December 23, specific alerts were issued to state police. The SIB also issued an alert that the NDFB(S) was planning an attack,” claimed a senior official in Delhi.
Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, however, denied any intelligence failure.
“This is not the time to find faults, but to tackle the situation,” he said. Terming the killings as “senseless”, he said, “This is a most heinous, cowardly and barbaric act. The government will never surrender to any pressure exerted by terrorists who train their guns on innocent people.”
Assam DGP Khagen Sarma admitted they had “some intelligence inputs”, but did not expect the militants to attack “on such a scale”. Stating that the militants had indulged in “senseless” killings in retaliation, as security forces had killed several of its cadres in the past few weeks, he said: “Security forces have neutralised several of their cadres, some of them very important, in the past few weeks. We had some intelligence inputs, but did not expect it to be on such a scale.”
Addressing a press conference, Gogoi said both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Singh had assured full assistance to the state government. Gogoi said both the Centre and the state government would deal firmly with the situation and take stern action against the NDFB(S). He underlined the need to counter the NDFB(S) threat in a coordinated manner. The outfit, he said, has its camps in Myanmar and flees to the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan after carrying out killings.
The Assam government today announced Rs 5 lakh to the next of kin of hose killed in the violence, and Rs 50,00 to each injured person. Meanwhile, the investigations could be handed over to the NIA.