Separatists killed four more Hindi-speaking migrant workers in Assam on Sunday, including three Marwaris, taking the toll in week-long coordinated attacks ahead of Independence Day celebrations to 34.
A police spokesperson said a group of about six armed militants attacked sleeping villagers at Rongmong Ghat in Karbi Anglong district, about 270 km east of Guwahati.
"The militants dragged people from two families and shot at them from close range using automatic weapons," Lajja Ram Bishnoi, deputy inspector general of police in Karbi Anglong district, told IANS over telephone.
Three of those killed, including a woman, belonged to a Marwari family originally hailing from Rajasthan and another from Bihar - both the families were petty shopkeepers residing in Assam for decades.
"The attack took place in a densely forested area with the militants taking advantage of terrain," the official said.
The police blamed the attack on the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the Karbi Longri National Liberation Front (KLNLF), both working in tandem in parts of Karbi Anglong district.
This is the first time militants have targeted Marwaris - in the past the attacks were directed against migrant workers from Bihar.
"So far 26 Hindi-speaking people have been killed in the district since Wednesday," Bishnoi said.
Stepped up attacks and a wave of bombings since Aug 5 has so far claimed 34 lives and wounded close to 50 people.
Rebels in Karbi Anglong had killed 22 Hindi-speaking people in two separate raids Wednesday and Friday. The state has also witnessed at least 10 separate bombings and raids in the last one-week killing eight civilians, most of them local Assamese.
The attacks are reminiscent of the wave of killings by the ULFA in January in which about 80 people were killed, most of them Hindi-speaking migrants.
Thousands of migrant workers from Bihar and Rajasthan have made Assam their home for decades and doing business or odd jobs as brick kiln workers, fishermen and daily wage earners.
The ULFA, a rebel group fighting for an independent homeland since 1979, had earlier vowed to free the state of all non-Assamese workers saying people from outside the state were eating into local jobs.
"There are mindless killings targeting innocent civilians. Violence and killings cannot help resolve any issues," said Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.
The Assam government has announced a massive military deployment in the area and pledged to thwart further attacks linked to the upcoming Independence Day celebrations next week.
Rebels in insurgency-hit Assam have for years been boycotting the Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations to protest the central government's rule over the vast region rich in oil, tea and timber.
The run-up to the events has always been violent, with ULFA rebels striking vital installations including crude oil pipelines, trains and road and rail bridges, besides targeting federal soldiers.
More than 30 rebel armies operate in the northeastern states, their demands ranging from secession to greater autonomy and the right to self-determination.