The Indian government appealed for calm yesterday after at least 32 Muslims were shot dead in the northeastern state of Assam in attacks targeting women and children and blamed on tribal separatists.
As more than 5,000 soldiers and police patrolled the restive tea-growing region, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said the killings appeared aimed at provoking a "full fledged" communal conflict.
Police blame indigenous Bodo tribesmen for the violence on Thursday and Friday nights in the region, where Muslims have long been accused of grabbing land after migrating from across the Bangladesh border.
"The objective of this (separatist) group seems to be aimed at starting a full fledged communal conflagration," Shinde said in a statement, adding the violence was targeted at women and children.
"The public leaders of both Bodo and (the) minority community must see to it that things do not deteriorate," the minister said, urging the region to maintain "peace and calm".
The violence comes during the final stretch of the country's mammoth general election, which has seen religious and ethnic tensions flare and deadly attacks staged elsewhere in the country including by Maoist rebels.
Thousands of families have fled their homes since masked gunmen went on the rampage in Baksa and neighbouring Kokrajhar district, shooting Muslims dead including children as young as 18 months as they slept.
Shinde put the death toll at 32. But a senior police official said two more bodies were discovered yesterday while a teenager died of her injuries overnight Saturday, taking the number killed to 35.