GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) -Separatist rebels in India’s restive northeastern state of Assam killed 43 people, mostly laborers and traders, in a series of coordinated overnight attacks, police said on Saturday.
Police said heavily armed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) guerillas gunned down at least 12 people in one remote village in Tinsukia.
“The massacre took place in an inaccessible area and the victims are mostly brick kiln workers and milk sellers,” a senior intelligence officer told Reuters in Guwahati, the state’s main city.
The rebels also gunned down eight traders in a crowded market in Tinsukia’s Doomduma town, police said, adding another nine people were killed in separate attacks in the district.
A further 13 laborers, including a woman, were killed in two separate strikes in Dibrugarh district.
“There were about 10 militants in each group and they attacked the laborers when they were preparing their dinner,” V.K. Ramisetti, a senior police official in Dibrugarh, said.
Another person was killed when militants triggered a blast in Sivasagar district.
“Witnesses told police that attackers came with their faces covered, and they tied the hands and legs of the victims before they were shot dead,” a police officer, requesting anonymity, told Reuters.
The attacks forced the authorities to step up security across Assam.
“Anti-insurgency operations will be intensified,” Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi told Reuters.
Police said the violence was an attempt to create an atmosphere of fear after an independent opinion poll by a peace group in nine districts of the oil-and-tea rich state showed 90 percent of the people rejected the ULFA’s separatist demands.
The three districts that witnessed the attacks had not been polled, but were to be included in the second phase of polling by the group, Assam Public Works. The ULFA has described the poll as a conspiracy of Indian intelligence officials.
“Such an exercise is meaningless and fruitless,” ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa told Reuters by telephone.
“No referendum or opinion polls can be conducted without our consent and the supervision of credible international agencies.”
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but police and security analysts say the ULFA, which is fighting for an independent homeland for the Assamese people, was behind the killings.
The attacks came a day after Indian officials appealed to the ULFA not to disrupt national games next month which the rebels have threatened to disrupt with violence.
The insurgency in Assam has killed more than 20,000 people since it began in 1979.