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India: Suspected separatists shoot dead five in Assam

Authorities suspect a faction of the banned group ULFA is behind the killing of five ethnic Bengalis in Tinsukia.

Suspected separatist gunmen shot dead five people they singled out in northeastern India's Assam state where ethnic tensions are simmering over the government's plans to amend a law on citizenship. 

Authorities said they believed a faction of the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) was responsible for the killings on Thursday, as well as a bomb attack in the state's largest city, Guwahati, last month.

ULFA rebels, who want a breakaway homeland for ethnic Assamese people, have threatened attacks in response to proposed amendments to India's citizenship law granting citizenship to Bengali-speaking Hindus.

Gunmen in military fatigues entered the village in Tinsukia district and ordered ethnic Bengalis out of their homes, officials said.

Four people were killed on the spot and a fifth died in hospital, they said.

ULFA chief Paresh Baruah recently threatened Bengalis who wanted to stage a rally in support of the citizenship amendment bill being pushed in parliament by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The bill aims to give citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Christian minorities from India's neighbouring countries who arrived in the country before 2015.

Activists and opposition leaders say the bill discriminates against Muslims and violates the secular Constitution of India.

Political and social groups in Assam have accused the BJP of using the law to naturalise the citizenship of Bengali-origin Hindus to get their votes.

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said "strong action" would be taken against the killers, but he also appealed for calm.

Assam's migrants question

The state of Assam has been rocked by protests over undocumented immigration from Bangladesh for decades.

Earlier this year, India published a provisional list of people in Assam eligible for citizenship, called the National Register of Citizens (NRC), in a bid to identify undocumented migrants from Bangladesh.

The draft list effectively stripped nearly four million people of the 32 million in Assam of their citizenship.

Those who proved they came to the state by March 24, 1971 - the cutoff date to be eligible for Indian citizenship - were included on the NRC.

The people whose names were not included on the NRC have been allowed to file their claims and objections by December 15.

Experts, meanwhile, say it will take several years to produce a final version of the list.

Bengali Muslims still fear they could be deported while rights groups have said there could be attacks on Assam's ethnic minorities.

In February 1983, more than 2,000 Bengali-speaking people were killed in Nellie in central Assam. In recent years, hundreds of people have been thrown in detention camps in the border state.


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