Reuters International

By Biswajyoti Das

GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) - Gunmen in military uniforms sprayed bullets and flung grenades into a crowded market in northeast India on Friday, killing at least 13 people in a rampage authorities blamed on a regional separatist group.

A further 15 people were wounded in the attack on the outskirts of Kokrajhar town, one of the deadliest in recent years in the state of Assam, a region with a history of sectarian and separatist bloodshed.

The assailants, one of whom was shot dead by security forces, arrived by auto-rickshaw, witnesses said. Troops were in pursuit of three or four others hiding in a nearby forest, Assam police chief Mukesh Sahay told reporters.

He attributed the attack - for which no one had claimed responsibility - to the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit) group, a militant faction fighting for a separate homeland for the indigenous Bodo tribespeople.

Sahay said police had recovered an AK-47 rifle and explosives from the as yet unidentified dead gunman, as well as the assailants' three-wheeler.

A senior home ministry official in New Delhi also said preliminary reports indicated the attack was carried out by the group. "Police have launched a hunt to trace insurgents... It is a militant attack and we will be sending a team from Delhi to investigate further," the official said.

The dead included eight men and five women and several were members of the Bodo community, local senior police officer L. R. Bishnoi said.

Like much of India's remote and underdeveloped northeast, Assam has been racked by a hotchpotch of ethnic and tribal insurgencies for decades.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won power in Assam for the first time in May after campaigning on a promise to disenfranchise Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants while also pledging to increase spending in the state.

"This attack is intended to destabilise peace in Assam," said Himanta Biswa Sarma, the state's finance and health minister and a member of the BJP.

Violence in Assam and the wider northeast has eased as several militant groups have called ceasefires, although attacks by one community against another are not uncommon.

Militants fighting for a Bodo homeland killed at least 70 people, most of them Muslims or tea-plantation workers from other parts of India, in a series of attacks in Assam in 2014.

(Reporting by Biswajyoti Das in GUWAHATI and Rupam Jain and Tommy Wilkes in NEW DELHI; Writing by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and John Stonestreet)

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