10/01/2007, 00.00
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Assamese rebels celebrate Gandhi Day in blood

by Nirmala Carvalho
At least six people die and 30 are injured in three bomb blasts, two days before India celebrates Gandhi’s birthday. ULFA secessionist rebels are blamed. Catholic sources say people are tired after 28 years of conflict and want peace.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – At least six people were killed and 30 injured when three bombs exploded in different locations in Assam. The police accused the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which has been active since 1979 in a bloody fight for secession, but the investigation is still underway. People, though, just want peace.

The first blast took place near a temple in a crowded market on the east side of the town of Tinsukia, about 510 kilometres east of the state capital of Guwahati.

“About 27 people were injured in the blast, most of them either temple-goers or evening shoppers. The bomb was probably concealed in a bag and kept on a parked bicycle," said Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta, deputy inspector general of Assam Police.

An hour later a second bomb went off on a motorcycle near a cinema hall at Uchumati in the adjoining town of Doomdooma, killing two and wounding 28, including two paramilitary troopers.

A third powerful explosion hit a pipeline transporting natural gas to tea gardens near Velukajan in Dibrugarh district, about 470 kilometres east of Doomdooma.

“The blast ripped apart the pipeline and a massive fire erupted soon after. The fire has since been brought under control after gas supply was stopped,” an Assam Gas Company Limited official said.

Since ULFA’s uprising began some 20,000 people have died. Violence flared up again last year after peace talks with the government collapsed.

In August a few days before India’s independence celebrations (August 15), 13 people died and 15 were wounded in attacks blamed on ULFA. In January another series of attacks claimed the lives of 62, mostly non-Assamese.

Fr Tom Mangattuthazhe, secretary of the Diphu Citizens’ Peace Forum, explains that the latest explosions are symbolically charged since “tomorrow (October 2) is Gandhi Jayanti, a national day of celebration in honour of the birth of the Father of the Nation. There have been attacks in the past recurring on this day.”

“The rebels want to disrupt peaceful co-existence and the area’s integration in the north-east. They want to create a climate of uncertainty, perhaps to convince the central government in New Delhi that this is a violent area, full of problems.”

“The last thing the people of Assam want is to go back to the spiral of violence,” said Father Mangattuthazhe. “Instead, they want peace, development and progress in this strife-torn state.”

“Blowing up the gas pipeline is of major significance to the ULFA’s agenda. It has slammed gas companies for exploiting and oppressing the people of Assam because they are taking away their natural resources in exchange for very little. The rebels object that gas companies are based outside [the state] and bring in most of their staff from other Indian states. And whatever technical infrastructure they build, it is very minimal.”

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