Security forces in the northeastern Indian state of Assam have been ordered to shoot on sight amid clashes between indigenous tribal people and Muslim settlers that have left at least 21 dead and forced thousands from their homes.
“It is a warlike situation here. We do not know what is going to happen,” said Jana Basumatary, a Catholic lay leader from Assam’s Kokhrajhar district.
Kokhrajhar is the headquarters of the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts, an autonomous region in the state that has witnessed ethnic violence for more than 20 years.
The latest clashes follow the killing of two Muslim student leaders on July 6.
Tensions boiled over on July 20 when tribespeople accused Muslims of killing four indigenous Bodo youths. This triggered a series of clashes in which both groups have been torching houses.
In response to the violence, local authorities have imposed a curfew in the region and instructed security forces to “shoot on sight” anyone found breaking it.
The violence has left at least 40,000 people homeless in Kokhrajhar and in neighboring Chirang district.
Basumatary said panic-stricken villagers have fled their homes for relief camps, adding that a mob torched a Muslim village near his home on Sunday and now people who remain in his village fear they will be attacked.
“As a precaution we have asked the women and children to stay in our parish at night while men guard the village.
Kokrajhar Deputy Commissioner Donald Gilfellon said mobs are looting houses abandoned by frightened villagers.
Bodo tribal people dominate the Bodoland region and they have resisted for years the influx of Muslim immigrants from neighboring West Bengal state and Bangladesh.
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