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Wildlife volunteers kidnapped in east India: police

by Staff Writers
Guwahati, India (AFP) Feb 7, 2011
Armed militants abducted six volunteers working for the WWF environmental group who were counting tigers and elephants in a reserve in eastern India, police said on Monday.

The three men and three women, all Indian nationals, were taken hostage by about 20 masked rebels late on Sunday in the Manas National Park in the remote state of Assam.

"A major hunt is under way to rescue them," Kampa Borgoyary, deputy chief of the local Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), told AFP by telephone from Manas.

The reserve lies 200 kilometres (120 miles) west of Assam's main city of Guwahati and borders the foothills of Bhutan.

The six WWF volunteers were accompanied by members of a local wildlife conservation group, Borgoyary said, adding they were carrying out "tiger and elephant counting and monitoring exercises" inside the park.

"The militants segregated the group and took away the WWF people," he said.

Borgoyary said authorities were trying to track down the kidnappers, whose exact identity was not known.

"We are concerned about the incident and we are in touch with the parties for the safe rescue of the missing people," Dipankar Ghosh, head of the eastern Himalaya programme of WWF-India, told AFP.

Rebels have attacked and sometimes killed wildlife officials in the past in the region.

At least three militant groups are active in the area.

The best known -- the National Democratic Front of Bodoland -- is fighting for an independent homeland for Assam's Bodo tribe. It opposes peace talks with the Indian government.

The NDFB was blamed for a series of explosions in 2008 that killed about 100 people and injured hundreds more.

Violent insurgencies have wracked India's northeastern states for decades.

Rebels in the region accuse the government of exploiting the area's rich natural resources while doing little for the local people.

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