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Fear stalks Karbi Anglong refugees

- Tales of massacre and arson in relief camps flooded with victims of attack and terror

Borpothar (Karbi Anglong), Jan. 8: A notice pasted on a blackboard hangs on the gate of Borpothar High School, prohibiting entry of outsiders as the district administration has reports that “others” may try to create more trouble here.

“They are already in fear and we can’t take any more chances,” the armed policeman manning the gate says, pointing to the hundreds who fled their houses on December 28 and are taking shelter here since.

Saho Rengma, 83, struggles to peep over the boundary wall. He had fled with his wife Soble, 70, and granddaughter Jolly, 22, after miscreants set ablaze his house in Phangsaraf village, about 35km from the relief camp, two days after suspected KPLT militants shot dead six persons in neighbouring Khowanigaon village.

“We would have been killed had we waited there a few more hours,” he told The Telegraph as he huddled with four other elders near the fire. “How can we go till the government settles the problem? They (militants) have been troubling us for long,” he added. Borpathar is about 85km from Diphu, the district headquarters of Karbi Anglong, nearly 300km from Guwahati.

Standing near Saho is Satu Rengma, 67, of Khowanigaon. He looks terrified. He had seen militants torch the house of his gaonburah (village headman), Rangkheng Rengma, 48, and shoot him dead. “They (militants) also fired at the gaonburah’s son Logo Rengma when he came out to save himself from the flames. Logo managed to escape, so did we,” he says. Satu’s son asks him not to talk much, fearing that the militants would not allow them to return to their village.

“Let me speak. The government should help us get over the fear we have been living under in our villages for years. They always force us to pay them and this time they attacked us as we can’t afford their demand always. How long can we live like this?” he asked. His son stopped him from revealing the amount of money the militant groups extort from the villagers.

Chaos prevailed inside the school building. Women, girls and children sat on sacks and blankets provided by the administration. “The building is good but it is very cold at night as we have to sleep on the floor. We came running here and could not bring warm clothes,” said Dasu Rengma of Daisingbasti, a village adjacent to Khowanigaon.

Altogether there are 1,054 villagers from Khanarai, Khowanigaon, Richanggari, Phansaraf and Karengbasti, all 35km-40km from the camp where they are taking shelter. The inmates are mostly Rengma Nagas but there are some Adivasi and Nepalis who lived in those villages.

About 2km away is Silonijan Lower Primary School where 305 Karbi people, who fled their houses in Maigaon, Lakhiram, Lakhan Hanse, Oklangchar and Nambar villages, about 25km away, are taking shelter since.

“Their houses have not been burnt. Some people fled on December 28 out of fear but more followed after a Karbi youth was gunned down in Khatkhati on January 4,” said the camp in-charge Anjan Borgohain, a college teacher.

Basapi Rongpibi, 32, and five other women were sitting with their children in the sun. “It’s very cold at night. My two-year-old son Grison has caught a cold here and could not sleep last night. We can’t go home either,” she added.

The mercury dipped to 11 degrees Celsius at 7am today in Silonijan.


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