Protesters attack police as Assam, Nagaland fight over territory

GUWAHATI India Thu Aug 21, 2014 4:17pm IST

1 of 3. Boys run carrying chickens after a truck transporting the poultry was set on fire during a protest at Golaghat district in Assam August 20, 2014.

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GUWAHATI India (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters in Assam defied a curfew and attacked police in a fifth day of unrest over a territorial dispute with a neighbouring state.

Assam and Nagaland have been claiming tracts of land along the state limits since the creation of Nagaland more than four decades ago.

Clashes have periodically erupted between people living in villages straddling the two states. The latest wave of violence has left at least 20 dead and forced thousands to flee their homes, officials said.

On Thursday, residents of Assam's worst-affected Golaghat district turned on the state police, saying it had failed to protect them from attacks by Naga tribesmen coming over the state borders.

Armed with stones and sticks, and even bows and arrows, demonstrators attacked policemen and vehicles, ignoring a dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed by the authorities in the district, about 300 km (180 miles) from Assam's main commercial city Guwahati.

"The situation in Assam is volatile and emotions are high among the people against the government for its failure to protect its people from Nagas," said Akhil Gogoi, a protest leader in Guwahati.

India's mountainous northeast is home to dozens of ethnic groups, many of whom are campaigning for greater autonomy, statehood or even secession.

New Delhi has deployed troops for decades in the area which shares borders with China, Myanmar and Bangladesh. But critics say the northeast is a neglected corner of the country, and that federal politicians only turn their attention to it when there is an outbreak of violence.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, elected by a landslide in May, has appointed a former army chief as his minister for northeast affairs to help build border infrastructure and ramp up economic activity.

Police said the latest trouble began when Naga tribesmen attacked a village inside Assam last week, killing 15 people and burning their homes.

Five people were later killed in police firing to quell angry mobs, an official said. The federal government has rushed about 1,000 paramilitaries to the troubled border areas.

The chief ministers of the two states were expected to meet later on Thursday to try and find ways to end the unrest.

(Writing by Rupam Jain Nair; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Ryan Woo)

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