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At least 44 dead in spate of attacks in India's northeast

Updated:
GAUHATI, India (AP) _ A string of bombings and gun attacks on crowded markets, a railroad station and other sites killed 44 people and left dozens wounded in two northeastern Indian states plagued by separatist groups, police said.

Nine separate attacks took place in Nagaland and Assam states, both of which have faced campaigns by rebels seeking independence, police said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility, but Inspector-General Khagen Sarma, the top police official of Assam state, told The Associated Press he ``cannot rule out'' the possible involvement of the outlawed National Democratic Front of Boroland, a tribal separatist group fighting Indian security forces in the region. Sunday is the 18th anniversary of the militant group's founding.

The attacks occurred a day after Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, the state's top elected official, offered a truce to the rebels from Oct. 16 if they imposed a cease-fire by then.

The day began with two powerful bombs that exploded minutes apart in Nagaland, killing 26 and injuring 84, the state's Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio told The Associated Press after visiting the sites of the attacks.

The first blast occurred in the railway station in Dimapur, Nagaland's commercial hub, shortly before a train was to arrive from neighboring Assam state and at a time when the main platform was crowded with passengers, said C. Yanthan, a railway official.

That was followed soon after by a powerful explosion just as shopkeepers were opening up for business in the city's popular ``Hong Kong'' market, said C. Kuki, an inspector in the police control room.

``We cannot say who is responsible. It is still too early,'' Rio said by telephone from the state capital, Kohima.

Hours later, seven other attacks hit neighboring Assam state, leaving a total of 18 people dead.

The deadliest of the attacks was in the small town of Makri Jhoda bordering Bangladesh, where unidentified gunmen sprayed shots at a crowded marketplace, killing 11 and injuring dozens, said local Superintendent of Police L.R. Bishnoi.

The assailants then killed four more people as they left the market, he said. Makri Jhoda is 12 miles west of Gauhati, the Assam state capital.

Two simultaneous explosions occurred in Assam's Bongaigaon town. Two people died in the first; a hotel was damaged but no one was hurt in the second.

In the town of Chirang near India's border with Bhutan, one man was killed and seven injured in another explosion, police said. Two other explosions took place in Baihata Charali and Abhayapuri towns. No casualties were immediately reported.

India's government is currently in peace talks to try to end rebel violence in Nagaland, where more than 15,000 people died before authorities and rebels agreed to the August 1997 cease-fire.

The Indian government has been in peace negotiations with one faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), headed by Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, since signing a cease-fire agreement in 1997.

There is also a cease-fire agreement with the rival NSCN faction, headed by S.S. Khaplang, but no formal talks have been initiated with it.
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