India's central government challenged by renewed regional violence

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The fresh outbreak of violence in the tiny Indian state of Tripura poses harsh new challenges to the Indira Gandhi government already struggling with ethnic unrest in other northeastern regions.

The new fighting in the tiny Marxist-led state that has left at least 300 people dead in the past week has heightened fears in government circles of a domino effect of violence.

It has also brought worries about a possible breakdown of civil administration in the afflicted areas, where secessionist threats -- both overt and covert -- are running through the protests. Many feel the national unity of the country is at stake.

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At least 50,000 have been left homeless in Tripura over the past week. The mass killings have assumed "genocide" proportions in some areas, the state's chief minister says.

The Indian government has airlifted additional troops and paramilitary personnel to quell the violence in Tripura, where the Army is operating under "shoot at sight" orders in the southern and western districts.

The violence pits Tripura's original tribal inhabitants against "foreigners" -- mostly Bengali immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh -- who now make up 70 percent of the state population of 1.7 million. It parallels the mass agitations against "foreigners" that continue to paralyze the neighboring state of Assam and nearby Manipur state, with devastating effects on the Indian economy.

Bows and arrows are among the weapons used in the clashes between Tripura tribals and nontribals, according to Indian press reports. Authorities found 215 bodies in one village of 600 alone. Entire villages have been burned to the ground in what some observers are calling a virtual civil war.

Indian Home Minister Zail Singh flew Wednesday to Agartala, the state capital , where a dusk-to-dawn curfew has been imposed. In Parliament, Prime Minister Gandhi said her government was "deeply concerned" at the worsening situation.

One Communist Party of India-Marxist parliamentarian charged that the US Central Intelligence Agency was supplying arms to the rebellious tribespeople.Previous reports published here have claimed Chinese involvement in the unprecedented unrest sweeping the 100,000-square-mile northeastern region, joined to the heartland by only a strip of land.

The common thread in the northeastern unrest is the demand for expulsion of foreigners from states whose indigenous residents feel themselves swamped culturally, politically, and economically by the outsiders.

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