GAUHATI, India (AP) — Police said Sunday they killed three suspected rebels and arrested eight forest guards for alleged involvement in the killings of 31 Muslims in the worst ethnic violence in India's remote northeast in two years.
In dense forest near Tejpur, four suspected insurgents hurled a grenade and fired at policemen who ambushed them, said police officer Sanjukta Prashar. Police killed two in an exchange of gunfire and two suspects escaped, she said. The town is nearly 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the region where Muslims were attacked on Thursday and Friday.
In Udalguri district, police killed a third suspect in an exchange of gunfire and recovered one revolver and one hand grenade from him, said regional police inspector general L.R. Bishnoi. He said police suspect two who fled were on their way to attack a village with a mostly Muslim population.
Police also recovered two bodies floating in a river in Barapeta area, Bishnoi said, raising the death toll in last week's violence to 31.
Police said they have arrested eight forest guards following complaints by the victims' relatives that they were involved in the brutal killings. The 22 people arrested earlier face charges they either burned homes or provided shelter to insurgents.
On Sunday, army soldiers patrolled the curfew-bound districts of Baska and Kokrajhar for a second day to defuse tension.
Relatives, who earlier refused to bury 18 victims in Baska unless Assam state's top elected official visited them, relented and performed the last rites after state Planning Minister Prithvi Majhi met them and assured security to thousands of people hit by the ethnic violence. The wrapped bodies had remained on the road for two days.
Authorities have said the attackers belonged to a faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, which has been fighting for a separate homeland for the ethnic Bodo people for decades. The rebel group denies it.
The Bodos are an indigenous tribe in Assam state, making up 10 percent of the state's 33 million people.
Rights group Amnesty International India said in a statement that authorities in Assam state must take action to protect the rights of all communities and bring those responsible for the attacks to justice.
Dozens of rebel groups are active in seven states in northeast India. Violence between Bodo people and Muslims in 2012 killed as many as 100 people in the same area as the recent attacks.
Tensions have been high in the region since a Bodo lawmaker in India's Parliament criticized Muslims for not voting for the Bodo candidate, said Lafikul Islam Ahmed, leader of a Muslim youth organization called the All Bodoland Muslim Students' Union.
The country's multiphase general election concludes May 12, with results for Parliament's lower house announced on May 16.