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12 killed as unrest mounts in India's northeast

The wreckage of a truck pictured on the eve of local election in Goalpara, near Guwahati, on February 11, 2013
The smouldering wreckage of a truck, allegedly set on fire by Rabha Hasong Joint Movement Committee activists, pictured after violence on the eve of local elections in Goalpara district, some 135 km from Guwahati, on February 11, 2013. Twelve people have

Indian troops shot dead 10 people while two others died in clashes as machete-wielding rioters protested against local elections in the country's restive northeast, officials said Tuesday.

Official in Assam said some 100 homes were burned and 20 people, including a police official, were injured as rioters brandishing machetes went on a rampage in two districts of the oil- and tea-rich state that borders Bangladesh.

"Twelve deaths have been reported of which 10 were killed in firing by troops while two others died in clashes between rival groups," Bhupen Bora, a senior Assam home ministry official, said in Guwahati, the state's main city.

Soldiers have fanned out to try and quell the violence that erupted in Goalpara, some 120 kilometres (75 miles) from Guwahati, he said, adding that a security forces have also slapped a curfew on violence-hit regions.

"Army soldiers have been deployed in the troubled areas to stop the violence from spreading," Bora told AFP.

Security forces opened fire when rioters from an ethnic tribal group and a rival community opposing the elections began setting fire to villages and attacking government officials with machetes and spears, Bora said.

Television channels showed images of men and women torching houses and engaging in widespread arson.

"The situation is very critical and volatile," said Bora.

Rabha and Hasong tribal villagers are demanding local autonomy and reject government rule in the area.

The protesters said the polls for "panchayat" or village councils that were held Tuesday undermined the authority of their own Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council.

Northeast India has seen decades of friction among ethnic and separatist groups, although some rebels have recently started peace talks with the government.

More than 10,000 people have lost their lives to unrest in the the tea- and oil-rich state of Assam over the last two decades.

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