//Soldiers kill 3 businessmen in India's troubled northeast

Soldiers kill 3 businessmen in India's troubled northeast

The Associated Press, Published: January 24, 2007

GAUHATI, India: Government soldiers fatally shot three businessmen, mistaking them for separatist militants, in India's troubled northeast on Wednesday amid a surge of violence ahead of India's national day celebrations, police said.

The three were shot after ignoring orders to stop their motorbikes near Geleki, a town 350 kilometers (215 miles) east of Gauhati, the Assam state capital, said B. J. Mahanta, a top police officer. Two died instantly and a third died at the hospital.

Mahanta said the soldiers could face murder charges once a police investigation into the shootings is complete.

Meanwhile, suspected rebels shot and killed a governing Congress party member, Chandra Chetia, outside his home on Tuesday night in Naharkotia, a town 550 kilometers (340 miles) east of Gauhati, said Absar Hazarika, the local state administrator.

The shooting followed nearly half a dozen bomb attacks on Monday and Tuesday which killed at least one person and wounded up to 25 others in the state.'

Chetia, 48, was the fourth Congress party member killed since the United Liberation Front of Asom, or ULFA — a rebel group fighting for a separate homeland in Assam state — stepped up its violent campaign earlier this month after peace talks with the federal government failed.

Suspected insurgents set off a roadside bomb near Tinsukia, a town nearly 500 kilometers (315 miles) east of Gauhati, on Wednesday, but there were no casualties, police said.

The Congress party has governed Assam state since 2001.

Separatists have killed more than 70 people this month, 65 of them from Assam's Hindi-speaking minority, in a spate of shootings and bombings.

No group has claimed responsibility although police suspect the ULFA.

The ULFA has urged people in the state to boycott the national day celebrations. India's Republic Day falls on Jan. 26 and marks the adoption of the country's constitution in 1950.

On Tuesday, key Congress party leader Rupeshwar Borgohain, survived unhurt after six suspected rebels fired at his home with AK-47 assault rifles in the Sivasagar district, said B. J. Mahanta, a senior police officer.

At least 10,000 people in Assam, most of them civilians, have died over the last three decades in fighting between government forces and separatists.

The militants say the central government in New Delhi — 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) to the west — exploits the northeast's rich natural resources while ignoring the region's economy.