Nagalim: India still open to talks with Separatists
Shivraj Patil, India's home minister, yesterday said New Delhi remained open to unconditional talks with separatist groups in the country's north-eastern region, in the wake of one of its worst bouts of terrorist violence in years.
More than 60 people have been killed in the past three days in Assam - the area's largest state - and Nagaland, home to India's longest-running separatist insurgency that began in the late 1950s.
Observers in the north-east, which borders Nepal, China, Bhutan, Burma and Bangladesh, say there has been a clear shift in recent months towards a new phase of separatist violence in which civilians are the principal target. All 62 of those killed since Saturday were civilians, including six villagers in Assam who were hauled out of their homes yesterday morning and shot.
Indian officials say they are pressing Bangladesh, allegedly host to many of the separatist outfits but which has poor relations with India, to clamp down on militant activity.
But Mr Patil, who visited the site of one of the weekend attacks in Assam, said Delhi would also strengthen the Indian army's presence in the region despite widespread criticisms of human rights abuses. "We have not closed the door for talks - they remain open - but it is also our duty to save innocent human lives," he said. "We will not spare those responsible for the acts."
Mr Patil has come under growing criticism in New Delhi for his handling of the crisis. Human rights groups say the insurgency outfits cannot be tackled by security measures alone.
The Assam Rifles - India's main regiment in the region - is accused of repeatedly abusing its powers. Last month, India's new government abolished a controversial terrorism law. But it left in place the equally draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which gives the military impunity to shoot suspected militants on sight.