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Aid starts to flow after PM's Assam visit

Relief groups say they can finally access areas badly hit by violence

Aid starts to flow after PM's Assam visit
Catholic nuns supply aid at a relief camp in Assam (photo by Thomas D'Silva)
Relief groups say they have finally been able to reach violence-stricken areas in Assam following a visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday. Singh’s visit to the northeast Indian state included the announcement of 3 billion rupees (US$54 million) for relief and rehabilitation. He sanctioned payments of 200,000 rupees to the families of each of the 60 people killed during violence between Muslim settlers from West Bengal and Bangladesh and ethnic Bodo people, along with 50,000 rupees for each person injured. His visit was followed by one from Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who flew to Assam today. About 400,000 people have been left homeless in 235 relief camps after a cycle of violence saw homes burned to the ground in Kokrajhar, Chirang and Dhubri, autonomous districts run by Bodo people. As the aid workers reached the worst affected areas, they were greeted by scenes of devastation, with rice paddy fields still burning 10 days after violence first broke out. "Nothing is untouched by fire,” said Sister Jacoba, a local Superior. “We have to attend to so many people and I am looking out for more volunteers.” Restrictions by the authorities were still hindering their work, she added. Relief groups had complained last week that strict curfews and a shoot-on-sight policy had prevented critical relief supplies from reaching those affected. Gaining permission from district officials to enter the area meant they were rarely able to arrive before 11am, said Sister Jacoba, while the curfew stopped relief work after 6pm. Authorities have entrusted the Missionaries of Charity with delivering aid in Dhubri, in conjunction with some Augustinian nuns. They went into action shortly after Singh’s visit on Saturday. Bongaigaon diocese, which covers the violence-hit area, has also arranged doctors and nurses to help the injured. Bishop Thomas Pulloppillil of Bongaigaon, head of the Peace and Relief Coordination Committee, led his team to relief camps in Chirang to assess the situation on Saturday. Similarly, Augustinian Sister Kiran, vice president of the Community Health Association of Bongaigaon, led a medical team to a camp in nearby Bijni, which is sheltering 5,000 people. Related reports Agencies cannot access strife-torn Assam Tribals and Muslims clash: 21 dead

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