GAUHATI, India – Suspected separatist rebels attacked sleeping villagers in northeastern India on Monday, killing six in a third day of explosions and gun attacks that have left at least 63 people dead in northeast India (search).
Seven people were wounded when the militants opened fire with machine guns on families in Gelapukhuri, a village 130 miles north of Gauhati, the capital of Assam state, said police officer P. Baruah, who was reached by telephone.
Baruah blamed the National Democratic Front of Boroland (search) for the latest of at least 18 bombings and shootings in Nagaland and Assam states since Saturday. A train station, a crowded marketplace, a tea plantation and utility lines were among the sites targeted.
But Assam's top police official has said the group is acting in concert with another separatist movement, the United Liberation Front of Asom (search). A leader of the latter group has been quoted as taking responsibility for some of the attacks. Both groups are among dozens fighting for separate homelands in the region.
Federal Home Minister Shivraj Patil said the attacks would not dissuade the national government from pursuing peace talks with the insurgents.
"We have not closed the doors for talks, but it is our duty to save human lives," Patil told reporters after visiting the violence-hit areas of Assam and Nagaland states.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (search) accused the government of being soft on terrorism and blamed the repeal of a tough anti-terrorism law for the rise in insurgency.
"The United Progressive Alliance government does not seem to be serious about tackling the issues of national security, terrorism and separatism," Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a BJP spokesman, said after a meeting of party leaders in New Delhi.
The law made it difficult for defendants to obtain bail and imposed tough punishment, including the death sentence, life terms and the seizure of property. The new Congress party-led government withdrew the law following accusations of its misuse against the Muslim minority.
Meanwhile, shops and schools closed and traffic ground to a halt in parts of Assam state on Monday during a daylong strike called by a students' group to protest the killings, said A. K. Bhutani, the district magistrate of Kokrajhar, a city 150 miles west of Gauhati that was the scene of several of the weekend bomb and gunfire attacks.
The violence began with two powerful bombs that exploded minutes apart on Saturday in Dimapur in Nagaland, killing 26 people. Patil also said some important clues have been found to those attacks but refused to give details.
No arrests have been made, police said.
On Sunday, the elusive commander in chief of the United Liberation Front of Asom, Paresh Barua, claimed responsibility for four of the attacks in Assam state, where the group has been fighting for a separate homeland since 1979 in an insurgency that has left more than 10,000 dead in the past decade.
"This is our answer to Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi's cease-fire call," the English-language newspaper The Sentinel quoted Barua as saying.
Government officials last week offered a cease-fire to both militant groups, and asked for a response before Oct. 15.
Sunday was the 18th anniversary of the founding of the National Democratic Front of Boroland, which is demanding a homeland for a region that straddles the two states.
Nearly 40 separatist groups have been fighting in the mountainous region of multiple ethnicities wedged between Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar.
Rebels in Nagaland have been leading one of Asia's longest running separatist conflicts, dating to shortly before India gained independence from Britain in 1947. Some 15,000 people have been killed in the fighting.
But one Naga separatist group engaged in talks with the government denounced the attacks, and said it was launching its own investigation into the violence.
Kraibo Chawang, of the separatist National Socialist Council of Nagaland, told the AP that the assaults were "aimed at derailing and sabotaging our peace talks with the Indian government."
Nagaland's death toll stood at 28, while Assam's rose Monday to 35.