07/24/2012, 00.00
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Tribal-Muslim violence is senseless, says Assam bishop who calls for peace

by Nirmala Carvalho
Mgr Thomas Pulloppillil, from the diocese of Bongaigaon, talks about the violence that broke out between tribal Bodos and Muslim settlers in Korajhar District. At least 17 people have been killed, and another 30,000 fled their villages out of fear.

Bongaigaon (AsiaNews) - "We are faced with senseless violence," said Mgr Thomas Pulloppillil, bishop of Bongaigaon. "We can only offer survivors all our help." Clashes between members of the Bodo tribe and Muslim settlers in Assam have created "a terrible situation," he added. So far, 17 people have been killed, but hundreds of homes have been torched and destroyed and at least 30,000 have fled their villages.

Violence broke out Friday night when unidentified armed men killed four youths in Kokrajhar district, an area dominated by the Bodo tribe. Armed Bodos attacked Muslims in retaliation, suspecting them to be behind the killings, police said.

Since then, unrestrained violence broke out with various groups setting houses, schools, and vehicles ablaze, firing indiscriminately with automatic weapons in populated areas.

On Sunday and Monday, the violence is reported to have spread to other areas, including nearby Chirang district.

As soon as he was informed of events, Mgr Pulloppillil returned from his annual retreat.

"Many Catholics in my diocese are in the middle of the mayhem," he said. "I have already given instructions to organise relief for the victims. We shall use all of the resources at our disposal to help these people, now and when it will be time to restart."

"I want to express my deepest condolences for all those who lost loved ones in this senseless tragedy. We shall be agents of reconciliation and mediation as well as builders of bridges of peace."

A local source, who preferred to be anonymous, told AsiaNews that the "situation is really serious. Everything is out of control and the police is unable to stop it."

The violence, the source explained, "is economic in nature, exacerbated by ethnic divisions." Religion does not come into it.

Tribal Bodos are Hindu or Christian, and the area has seen tensions in the past, especially in 2003, when the central government set up the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), a non-autonomous territorial body that administers the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD), which includes the districts of Kokrajhar, Baska, Udalguri and Chirang, where the Bodos are the majority.

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