Datgiri-Hatisar (Assam-Bhutan border), Oct. 27: Twenty-one non-Bodo residents of a village near the Indo-Bhutan border in Assam’s Kokrajhar district were gunned down early today in a firing squad-like operation by masked militants of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB).
A few hours after the pre-dawn attack, six policemen were injured in a powerful explosion triggered by members of the same outfit. The bullet-proof vehicle in which the policemen were travelling was headed for the site of the massacre.
There was trouble in the state capital, too, with suspected Ulfa militants carrying out a mortar assault on the high-security Dispur complex in the evening. However, only three vehicles were damaged in the incident.
The police found mortar shells scattered near the official residence of Cabinet minister Hemoprova Saikia, who is the widow of former chief minister Hiteswar Saikia. Official sources, however, said there was no reason to believe that she was the militants’ target.
It was the second abortive attack on the Dispur capital complex this month. Three persons had been injured in a grenade explosion near the Dispur police station on the eve of Puja.
Survivors of the pre-dawn attack by NDFB militants said the assailants, all masked and dressed in fatigues, swooped down on the village at 1 am and ordered the male members of each household to assemble on the main road.
After lining up 29 men with their hands tied behind their backs, the militants sprayed them with bullets, killing 20 on the spot. One of the nine injured succumbed to his injuries a few minutes later.
Babulal Yadav, who escaped with injuries to his legs, told The Telegraph that the militants had conversed in Hindi and identified themselves as army personnel. After they left, Yadav and another villager trekked for five hours to reach the Runikhata police outpost.
The injured had been rushed to Gelekphu town of Bhutan, 200 metres from the village and 75 km from Kokrajhar town, but were later shifted to Kokrajhar. Four of them were taken to the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital in the evening.
The ambush on the police vehicle took place near Bhanga, about 10 km off the Runikhata outpost. Sources said the militants triggered an improvised explosive device when the police team neared a bridge. Such was the force of the blast that the bullet-proof vehicle was badly damaged.
The injured police personnel are undergoing treatment at Dhaligaon hospital, near Kokrajhar.
A three-member ministerial team, comprising health minister Bhumidhar Barman, revenue minister Mithius Tudu and minister of state for home Rockybul Hussain, is scheduled to arrive here tomorrow.
Official sources in Guwahati said chief minister Tarun Gogoi reviewed the state’s law and order strategy at a meeting in Dispur and later had a telephonic conversation with deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani. He sought additional paramilitary forces for counter-insurgency operations, the sources added.
Terming the attack on villagers “an act of cowardice”, Gogoi said in a statement that his government was committed to the task of ending militancy. He announced ex gratia of Rs 25,000 for each of the families of the victims and Rs 10,000 each for the injured.
Director-general of police Hare Krishna Deka, accompanied by senior police officials, is already here to oversee combing operations.
Kokrajhar deputy commissioner A.K. Bhutani said Bhutanese officials in Gelekphu were extremely helpful when the injured were taken to the town for emergency medical treatment.