The trouble-torn district of North Cachar Hills in Assam was put under a 48-hour curfew at 1 pm on Wednesday after trouble once again erupted between the Dimasas and Hmar tribes.
The district administration clamped the curfew after hundreds of armed Dimasas descended on at least two Hmar settlements, raining bullets and setting ablaze more than 150 houses, forcing panic-stricken villagers into the safety of the dense jungles in the vicinity.
Wednesday's attack is the latest episode in the on-going Dimasa-Hmar clashes that are now threatening to escalate into a full-scale ethnic feud. Trouble began on March 31 when Hmar rebels abducted and killed at least 23 Dimasas in adjoining Cachar district.
NC Hills Deputy Commissioner S I Hussain said on Wednesday a group of around 40 armed Dimasas arrived in village Lower Ridzol, 16 km from the headquarters town of Haflong, and attacked the villagers. "The attackers used guns and AK-47 rifles during the raid around 10 in the morning, in course of which they set ablaze around 30 houses in the village," Hussain said.
In another incident, an estimated 1500 armed Dimasas attacked the Hmar hamlet of Saron, near Mahur, around 28 km. from Haflong, at 1 pm. The attackers torched at least 120 houses in the village, forcing the inhabitants to flee.
Army and police contingents located nearby arrived at the scene soon after, but were fired upon by the attackers. The security forces and the armed attackers were locked in an exchange of fire for more than an hour.
The situation in the district is described as 'explosive' with the local authorities sending an SoS to Dispur for four additional companies of the Central Reserve Police.
An estimated 1500 Dimasas from their settlements close to the border with Cachar district have deserted their homes and are taking shelter in Dimasa villages in places like Gunjung, Sarkari Bagan etc.
What has made matters worse is the inmvolvement of militant groups of the two rival communities in the clashes. The Hmar Peoples Convention and the Dima Halong Dauga, both armed militant groups have started operating against the rival tribes making it difficult for the authorities to gain control over the situation.