GUWAHATI: The death toll from ethnic violence in northeast India rose to 35, officials said Wednesday, as military reinforcements were called in to quell more than four days of clashes.
At least 170,000 villagers have fled their homes in Assam state to seek shelter in relief camps, government buildings and schools to escape the unrest, which has raged since Friday with dozens of homes burnt down.
Nine people were killed in overnight clashes raging between indigenous Bodo tribes and Muslim settlers who have fought for years over long-standing territorial disputes in the remote region.
"The situation is tense and we are getting additional paramilitary troopers," Assam police chief JN Choudhury told reporters, adding that the bodies of those nine people had been found on Wednesday morning.
News channels broadcast pictures of homes that had been set ablaze by rioters, and of women and children gathered in the government-run camps where food is handed out and soldiers are on duty to provide protection.
Northeast India, which is linked to the rest of the country by a narrow land bridge, has seen decades of friction among ethnic and separatist groups, though some of the biggest rebel movements have recently started peace talks with the government.
Hagrama Mohilary, chief of the Bodoland Territorial Council, a local government body, told AFP by telephone that "35 people have been killed and an estimated 170,000 are sheltered in relief camps".
Mohilary said that the latest victims had been killed with crude weapons such as heavy sticks, and their bodies left at separate sites in rice fields and along roadsides.
"Incidents of arson and violence were reported from several places," he said.
Police issued shoot-on-sight orders late on Monday after rioters burnt shops and houses and attacked rival gangs. The orders mean that mobs breaking curfew orders can be shot without warning.
Four rioters attempting to burn down properties were shot by security forces on Tuesday, police said.
"We have lost everything in the violence. Our houses have all been razed to ground with mobs setting ablaze our properties," Rabiul Islam, a villager in Kokrajhar district, told local television at one camp.
"We don't know how long we have to stay in the relief camp. We left everything behind and simply ran for our lives," said Ronila Brahma, a mother of two children.
The Press Trust of India news agency reported that the fighting started when two Muslim student leaders were shot and seriously injured in Kokrajhar, leading to revenge strikes on Bodo groups.
A team of senior Indian home ministry officials have arrived in Assam to oversee the security plan.
"We are trying our best to bring the situation under control and appeal for peace and restraint," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for the violence to be controlled.