Hundreds killed by train bomb

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Three hundred people were feared dead last night after a bomb blasted through crowded railway cars and toppled another three on their sides in Assam, north-east India. Officials combed through the twisted metal remains where passengers had been preparing to bunk down in three-tier sleepers.

Police suspect Bodo separatists of planting the powerful bomb which ripped the Brahmaputra Express train apart. Many of the estimated 1,200 people on board were burned or injured by the impact. No responsibility for the bomb was claimed by either of two militant groups active in the region - the Bodo guerrillas, or the United Liberation Front of Assam.

Violence against millions of landless immigrants who crossed the jungle borders from Bangladesh into India's north-east state has triggered unrest in the area for the past 25 years. By acting as vigilantes against illegal settlers, armed tribal separatists have caused frequent headaches in New Delhi. Yet, until this week, insurgency in the area was thought to be under control.

The blast came a day after tribal Bodo guerrillas blew up a road bridge that formed the main link between India's north-east regions and the rest of the country, injuring seven people.

Activists representing Bodo tribesmen living north of the Brahmaputra river want a homeland within India in the state of Assam. An extremist fringe, the Bodoland Army, has been fighting for a separate nation since 1989.

Most of the passengers were believed to be holiday-makers heading for Delhi to celebrate the new year. More than 5,000 people have been killed in Assam in ethnic and separatist violence in the last three years.