The situation in violence-hit areas of Assam remained calm on Tuesday with no overnight incidents reported, the first time in four days of ethnic clashes that left 49 people dead and more than 100,000 displaced, officials said.
"The situation is fast returning to normal with security forces able to quell the clashes although curfew and a shoot-at-sight orders are still clamped," Assam government spokesman and Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told IANS.
An estimated 8,000 police, army and paramilitary troops were deployed in the four northern Assam districts of Udalguri, Darrang, Baska, and Chirang after violence broke out on Friday between tribal Bodos and Muslim migrant settlers.
"The task before the government now is to bridge the divide between the two communities and build a sense of confidence before some 100,000 sheltered in makeshift relief camps could return to their homes," Sarma said.
The clashes, between members of the Bodo tribal group and Muslim settlers originally from Bangladesh, have witnessed raids on about 40 villages by groups armed with bows and poison-tipped arrows, spears and machetes.
The minister said the rebel National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), fighting for an independent tribal homeland, took advantage of the situation and resorted to large scale arson and killings.
"It was a minor clash between a group of Muslims and Bodos on Friday, but the NDFB took advantage of the frayed tempers and resorted to some sort of an ethnic cleansing to drive out all the non-Bodos from the area," Sarma said.
The NDFB, which is a largely Christian outfit, entered into a ceasefire with the Indian government in 2005, but has never renounced its independence struggle. Community leaders have appealed for calm in the area.
"Various ethnic groups and people practising different faiths were cohabiting in the area for decades and we should not allow this age old amity to be disturbed. The need of the hour is to show restraint," Idris Ali, a noted writer belonging to the Muslim community, said.
Similar appeals were made from the Bodo community. "It is time for all of us to remove suspicion and hatred," K. Basumatary, a Bodo community leader, said.