Assam tribals run to camps in Bengal

Unhindered violence: Ultras' continued attack leads to exodus

Assam tribals run to camps in Bengal

Violent attacks by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland’s (NDFB) Songbijit faction in two districts of Assam have forced a large number of Santhals and other tribals to escape to adjoining West Bengal.

While the situation continues to remain tense three days after the attacks started, vigil has been heightened at the Assam-Bengal border.

The NDFB's hardline faction, led by self-styled commander Songbijit, launched attacks on non-Bodo tribals on Tuesday at the Kokrajhar and Chirang districts, which turned into ethnic clashes when the tribals started retaliating at the Sonitpur district in upper Assam.

While Kokrajhar shares a border with West Bengal, Sonitpur borders Bhutan.
Forlorn faces abound at the relief camps in West Bengal. Most refugees had tales of fear and panic to share. They talked of how they had to leave everything behind to escape the NDFB onslaught.

Both refugees and officials at the camps said while only women, children and the aged have came over to Bengal, the menfolk are hiding in jungles adjacent to their villages to keep an eye on their homes and livestock, and are simultaneously looking for opportunities to strike back.

Dheena Asta, a 24-year-old farmer from Koshalguri village in Kokrajhar, currently housed at one of the five relief camps in Bengal, said his elder brother Jhuman stayed back with the other men of his village to keep an eye on the livestock.

Dheena, who walked around 7 km through the rough mountainous terrain through dense jungle with the women and children of the village, reached the safety of Bengal on Wednesday night. “We started fleeing after our relatives in another village warned us over phone that Bodos have started attacking. They set houses on fire in other villages and shot indiscriminately. My brother asked me to take the women away, so I came with them,” he said.

Dheena's mother-in-law Samri Maddi, who reached the Changmari camp in Bengal, said Bodos were on their way to attack even on Thursday night, so she fled with some women from her village.

Pramita Murmu, a 29-year-old Santhal housewife from Simlabari village, saw the attackers from close proximity. “They surrounded our village from all sides on Wednesday night, so we fled in the dark and hid in the forest. At dawn, we started walking towards Bengal,” she said.

Her relative, Miru Murmu, shared a similar tale. “All 30 families in our village have fled. We don't know when we can go back,” she said.

Dilip Murmu of Koshalbari village had a close shave with the Bodo attackers. “I saw around 70 armed men cross the river along our village. They were coming to attack us. They threw a few grenades and set fire to some houses on the fringes of the jungle. They first came on Tuesday night and then again on Thursday night. We can't go back because we fear they are still in the area,” he said.

Villagers panicked even more as there was hardly any police or Army presence in the area even two days after the first attack, he added.

While the local administration in Bengal refused to comment on the deployment of security forces in the affected areas of Assam, local sources said the terrain had posed a major problem. “Most of the attacked villages are in far-flung areas. The terrain is hardly motorable, so troop movement is difficult,” said a paramilitary officer.

Crackdown on Bodo militants begins

Two days after the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit) (NDFB-S), launched an unprovoked attack on non-Bodo tribals' villages in Assam, the Indian Army has initiated a major offensive against the militant group, DHNS reports from Barobisha near Assam-West Bengal border..

Senior officials said after the NFDB's Tuesday night attack on non-Bodo villages, non-Bodo tribals on Thursday retaliated in the Sonitpur district which is the main NDFB stronghold in Assam.  “The militants keep moving in and out of Assam via the Indo-Bhutan and Indo-Myanmar borders from Sonitpur. The Army's primary job will be to cut off their access to these two borders,” said a senior official in Guwahati.

Sources said the Army will launch its offensive in such a manner that the militants fail to escape.  The security forces have cut off the road from Sonitpur to Bhalukpong along the Bhutan border, which is the militants regularly use to reach Kokrajhar and other areas in upper Assam.

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