Rioters clashing over land rights have burned down dozens of homes in north-east India, while some 50,000 villagers are sheltering in camps for protection, police said today.
Assam Police Chief JN Choudhury said 21 bodies hacked with machetes and left in the jungle or by the road or riverside have been found since violence erupted between the region's ethnic Bodo community and Muslim settlers in the state's western district of Kokrajha on Friday.
Local police inspector general SN Singh said today that some 5,000 troops have been deployed with a mandate to shoot suspected rioters on sight.
Some 80 homes were burned overnight as the violence spread to Dhubri and Chirang districts. No-one was injured in the fires as the residents had fled to government shelters.
"We have decided to control the situation with a firm hand, and we have issued shoot orders," said Mr Singh.
Animosity and accusations of land-stealing have long simmered between Bodos and the thousands of mostly Bengali Muslim settlers, many of whom came from the former East Pakistan before it became Bangladesh in 1971. The two groups have clashed sporadically since 1990s and burned each other's homes and property.
A mob of more than 500 people attacked the Indian Railways' showcase Rajdhani Express train this morning, pelting it with stones and bricks as it crossed the state border from West Bengal, forcing it to reverse course.
Yesterday, protesters among the Muslim minority staged a demonstration that blocked the same train for five hours.
The violence has severely disrupted all regional train services, with about 30 delayed or cancelled, affecting some 15,000 passengers, railways spokesman S Hajong said.
The protesters have also called a general strike to demand authorities restore order.