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Troops fanned out into India’s remote north-eastern jungles yesterday to crack down on separatist rebels blamed for a wave of ethnic killings that have taken 69 lives since the weekend. The counter-insurgency operation in Assam came as authorities confirmed ethnic minority Hindi-speaking migrant workers from the eastern Indian state of Bihar — the main target of the attacks — were fleeing the state. The outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), a rebel group fighting for an independent homeland in the oil, tea and timber-rich state since 1979, has been blamed for the killings.


 This is not the first time that the ULFA has been accused of targeting migrant workers. The group is fighting for an independent homeland for the Assamese people, who are ethnically distinct from the rest of the country. The rebels blame the Hindi-speaking migrants for taking away scarce jobs and the federal government for ignoring the development needs of the region, which is rich in resources but remains backward.     


The latest attacks follow the failure of peace efforts last year. A truce was called off in September and the government resumed a military offensive after militants said they would only hold talks if jailed leaders were freed.     


Security forces have intensified their counter insurgency operations after the latest attacks, fanning out into militant strongholds. 


Junior Home Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal visited the state on Sunday.  


He strongly condemned the attacks and says the government will take measures to tighten security in the area. 


Assam’s Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is also promising tough measures to deal with the latest violence. But he says authorities are also ready to hold peace talks. 


 “It is not a positive signal. We are keen for talks, keen for solution of the problem,” Gogoi says. 


Nearly 10,000 people, mostly civilians have died in Assam since 1979 when ULFA, along with several other insurgent groups, began fighting Indian security forces. The northeast is one of India’s most isolated and restive regions 



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