Guwahati: Thousands of protesters in Assam defied a curfew and attacked police in a fifth day of unrest over a territorial dispute with Nagaland.
Assam and Nagaland have been claiming tracts of land along the state limits since the creation of Nagaland more than four decades ago.
Clashes have periodically erupted between people living in villages straddling the two states. The latest wave of violence has left at least 20 dead and forced thousands to flee their homes, officials said.
On Thursday, residents of Assam’s worst-affected Golaghat district turned on the state police, saying it had failed to protect them from attacks by Naga tribesmen coming over the state borders.
Armed with stones and sticks, and even bows and arrows, demonstrators attacked policemen and vehicles, ignoring a dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed by the authorities in the district, about 300 km (180 miles) from Assam’s main commercial city Guwahati.
“The situation in Assam is volatile and emotions are high among the people against the government for its failure to protect its people from Nagas,” said Akhil Gogoi, a protest leader in Guwahati.
Mountainous northeast is home to dozens of ethnic groups, many of whom are campaigning for greater autonomy, statehood or even secession.
New Delhi has deployed troops for decades in the area, which shares borders with China, Myanmar and Bangladesh. But critics say the northeast is a neglected corner of the country, and that federal politicians only turn their attention to it when there is an outbreak of violence.
Police said the latest trouble began when Naga tribesmen attacked a village inside Assam last week, killing 15 people and burning their homes.
Five people were later killed in police firing to quell angry mobs, an official said. The federal government has rushed about 1,000 paramilitaries to the troubled border areas.
The chief ministers of the two states were expected to meet later on Thursday to try and find ways to end the unrest.
Union Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju held a meeting with Assam and Nagaland chief ministers, where it was decided to work out a joint mechanism to defuse recurring tension along the border between the two states.
Addressing the media jointly with Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and his Nagaland counterpart T R Zeliang after the meeting here, Rijiju said: “A joint mechanism will be worked out at a senior level.”
“Senior officials from both states will meet frequently at a designated place so that no lapses occur in future. The mechanism will be worked out as soon as possible. It is very heartening that both chief ministers came together and discussed the matter,” he said.
On the deployment of the neutral CRPF forces along the disputed border, the Minister said, “We are looking to reinforce the central forces. We need to deploy more CRPF men there”.
He assured of help whenever the chief ministers want it.
On allegations about the role of the CRPF during the recent trouble at Uriamghat border, he said, “We will take action if any from our forces does not work as per the standard procedure”.
To queries on why there was recurring border tension, the Union minister said, “It is because of lack of understanding at the local level. There are some misunderstandings that flare up the issue. Rumour and counter rumours also work towards it.”
The two chief ministers on their part promised to work closely to defuse tension and avoid any untoward incidents along the interstate border in future.