The central government on Sunday announced it would rush additional paramilitary soldiers to violence-hit Assam to fight separatists who have killed 48 Hindi-speaking migrant workers in a string of attacks.
"The central government will send adequate reinforcement of paramilitary forces immediately to tackle the situation and ensure security of common people in Assam," said Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal, who is on a day-long visit to the state for an on-the-spot assessment following the killings.
He hinted at a joint offensive against the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) by security forces of both Assam and adjoining Arunachal Pradesh where the outfit has set up bases to carry out their hit-and-run guerrilla strikes.
Jaiswal stated this at a high-level security meeting at Tinsukia in eastern Assam with top army commanders, paramilitary, police, and civil officials.
"The minister was talking about a joint security offensive involving both Assam and Arunachal Pradesh to flush out the ULFA. It is a fact that the militants sneak back to their bases in Arunachal when there are offensives in Assam," an army official who wished not to be identified said.
The ULFA went on a rampage for two straight days beginning Friday killing 48 people and wounding 30 more in separate raids in the three eastern districts of Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, and Dhemaji targeting Hindi-speaking migrant workers.
"The home minister assured us of all help and support from the central government to tackle insurgency and stop the recent wave of killings," Assam government spokesman and Industry Minister Pradyut Bordoloi, who was present at the meeting, told IANS.
Assam had sought 78 companies (about 7,800) paramilitary troopers from the central government for effective anti-insurgency operations.
Jaiswal, accompanied by a team of top home ministry officials, arrived by a special flight in the eastern town of Dibrugarh and headed for the small industrial township of Doomdooma to visit family members of some of the victims of one of the massacres.
"The minister addressed an impromptu public meeting at Longsowal, a village where eight people were killed. He assured the public of full support and security to their lives," Tinsukia district magistrate Absar Hazarika said.
Jaiswal is to hold a review meeting with Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi later Sunday at Guwahati before flying back to New Delhi.
Meanwhile, streets in eastern Assam wore a deserted look with an indefinite curfew and shoot-on-sight orders issued late Saturday. "We shall review the situation to see if we can relax curfew for a few hours to enable people to stock up on essentials," an official said. There were no overnight reports of violence and the situation was gradually limping back to normal, a police spokesman said.
"Security forces have fanned out across the region with the army, police, and paramilitary troopers engaged in a systematic anti-insurgency offensive," Hazarika said.
Authorities in eastern Assam have formed several peace committees involving leaders of all communities to instil confidence among the Hindi-speaking minority in the area.
"These peace committees are working as vigilantes and helping the affected people to come to terms with reality and trying to heal the wounds," a senior police official said.
Most of the victims were from the eastern state of Bihar who had made Assam their home for decades and were doing odd jobs as brick kiln workers, fishing and as daily wage earners.
In 2000, ULFA militants killed at least 100 Hindi speaking people in Assam in a series of well-planned attacks after the rebel group vowed to free the state of all 'non-Assamese migrant workers'. The ULFA is yet to claim responsibility for the recent attacks.