Indian police searched for 15 missing people today after finding bodies of a baby girl and a woman floating down river from a national park in Assam where Muslim villagers were killed in a massacre that has marred the country's general election.
India is in the home stretch of a five-week election, which has heightened ethnic and religious tensions in some parts of the country, and which the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) looks set to emerge as the biggest group.
The worst violence was in the northeastern state of Assam, where at least 36 people were killed by suspected militants belonging to the Bodo tribe in three massacres last week believed to be revenge attacks after Muslims voted against the Bodo candidate. The brunt of the killing was in the village of Narayanguri on the banks of the Beki river and the fringes of the Manas national park, where masked gunmen burnt dozens of houses and shot more than 20 men, women and children. Villagers there insist more people are missing.
"We have deployed SDRF (State Disaster Response Team) to search in the Beki river for those missing people," A. P. Rout, Assam's Additional Director General of Police told reporters.
He said villagers and police had found the remains of a six-month-old child and a 35-year-old woman called Jahanara Begum, both floating in the river about 25 km (16 miles) from the site of the massacre that took place on May 2. The Hindu nationalist BJP has condemned the killings and accused the Congress party, which runs Assam and leads the national government, of not providing sufficient security in the volatile Bodo region despite threats of violence.
But the BJP's candidate for prime minister, Narendra Modi, has ramped up verbal attacks on illegal immigration by Muslims from nearby Bangladesh, drawing criticism from his opponents that he is inflaming tensions. A local court on Tuesday ordered police to detain 14 persons in their custody suspected of being involved in the killings, for further interrogation. These include six forest department personnel who villagers allege were involved in the attack by the villagers.
The Manas park is a UNESCO world heritage site that borders the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan and is popular with Indian and foreign tourists drawn to its dense biodiversity and tigers. The state chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, on Wednesday visited the sites of carnage and ordered a high level investigation into the killings.