- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 3, 2004

GAUHATI, India — In a shattering series of attacks, suspected separatists hit nine targets — a railroad station and eight markets — with bombs and gunfire across two states in northeastern India yesterday, killing at least 44 persons.

The violence was some of the deadliest to hit this ethnic-patchwork region, where more than three dozen insurgent groups have been active — including one of Asia’s longest-running separatist conflicts, dating to shortly before India gained independence from Britain in 1947.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, and it wasn’t clear whether the nine attacks in Nagaland and Assam states were linked.

Inspector General Khagen Sarma, the top police official of Assam, said he “cannot rule out” the involvement of the outlawed National DemocraticFront of Bodoland, a tribal separatist group that is active in the region.

Today is the 18th anniversary of the group, which is demanding a homeland for Bodoland, a region that straddles both states. On Friday, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, the state’s top elected official, offered a truce to the Bodoland rebels and the region’s largest insurgent group — the United Liberation Front of Asom — beginning Oct. 16 if they accepted a cease-fire.

Nagaland has also been the scene of an insurgency that has killed about 15,000 people since Naga rebels began fighting for a separate nation nearly six decades ago. The rebels want special status for Nagaland state, which borders Burma and where most of the 2 million Nagas — most of them Christians — live in predominantly Hindu India.

The day began with two powerful bombs that exploded minutes apart in Nagaland, killing 26 persons and injuring 84, state Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio said after visiting the sites of the attacks.

“We cannot say who is responsible. It is still too early,” Mr. Rio said by telephone from the state capital, Kohima.

The first blast occurred in the railway station in Dimapur, Nagaland’s commercial hub, and was followed soon after by a powerful explosion just as shopkeepers were opening for business in the city’s popular “Hong Kong” market, said C. Kuki, an inspector in the police control room.

The railway blast occurred shortly before a train was to arrive from neighboring Assam state, and the main platform was crowded with passengers awaiting the train, said C. Yanthan, a railway official. He said the injured had been taken to hospitals across Dimapur.

Hours later, seven other attacks hit neighboring Assam, leaving a total of 18 persons dead.

The deadliest of the attacks occurred in the small town of Makri Jhoda bordering Bangladesh, where unidentified men sprayed gunfire at a crowded marketplace, killing 11 persons and injuring dozens of others, said local Superintendent of Police L.R. Bishnoi.

The assailants then killed four more persons as they left the market, he said.

Makri Jhoda is 175 miles west of Gauhati, Assam’s capital.

Two simultaneous explosions occurred in Assam’s Bongaigaon town. Two persons died in the first while a hotel was damaged, but no one was hurt in the second.

In the town of Chirang near India’s border with Bhutan, one man was killed and seven injured in another explosion, police said. Two other explosions took place in Baihata Charali and Abhayapuri towns, but no casualties were immediately reported.

India’s government is engaged in talks aimed at ending the rebel violence in Nagaland.

The Indian government has met with one faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland since signing a cease-fire agreement. There is also a cease-fire agreement with the rival faction, but no formal talks have been initiated with it.

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