GAUHATI, India -- Army troops rushed Thursday to northeastern Assam state where new Assamese attacks this week on Bengali immigrant villages left at least 50 people dead.
The new massacre raised the unofficial death toll to 3,550 in 24 days of election-related violence in Assam. The killings mark the bloodiest spree of ethnic violence since India gained its independence in 1947.
The latest carnage erupted earlier this week when mobs of Assamese attacked several villages of Bengali immigrants near Silapathar, in North Lakhimpur district, 1,050 miles northeast from New Delhi, state officials said.
The attackers set fire to several villages forcing survivors to flee to neighboring Arunachal Pradesh state, officials said.
Army troops discovered at least 50 bodies of Bengali immigrants in the burned ruins of their impoverished homes, but expect the death toll to rise as the search continues, officials said.
Home Minister P.C. Sethi estimated the death toll from an earlier weekend massacre at 1,217, but interviews with survivors and and government sources since his remarks to parliament on Tuesday indicated the estimate was too low.
Survivors from the weekend massacre said tribesmen Friday and Saturday massacred more than 2,000 Bengali immigrants -- mostly women and children -- at the village of Nellie and 14 surrounding hamlets.
In the village of Muladhari, a correspondent was shown 25 bodies - all mothers and their babies -- lying in a row awaiting burial.
'My two wives, six sons and an old aunt were gunned down one by one,' said Mohammad Sarifuddin as he wept hysterically. 'I fled clutching my baby son. We two are the only survivors in the family.'
Another survivor, Abdul Rashim, 45, was wounded but lived because he feigned death.
'The attackers were led by 400 rifle-shooting men,' he said. 'It seemed they were trained gunmen.'
A clash Wednesday between Bengali immigrants and native Assamese left two dead in the Manipur Tol area of Nowgong district, near the site of the weekend carnage, officials said.
In the same district, a mob armed with machetes attacked a police station near the village of Samaguri, killing one officier and wounding four others, they said. Police fired into the mob, killing one person.
In three other districts of the state of Assam, authorities reported recovering 39 bodies. Officials said the 39 were victims of violence, but the circumstances of their deaths were not immediatley known.
In Nellie, the surviving Bengali immigrants lay bleeding and moaning in squalid, hastily erected camps and expressed deep fear that Wednesday's killings could set off a new massacre.
Survivors said they heard rumors of an impending attack by people from nearby villages in the region, situated 960 miles east of New Delhi.
The massacre is blamed on pagan Lalung tribesmen who demand the expulsion of the Bengalis, some whom have resided in Assam more than 30 years.
The unrest began Feb. 1 after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's decided to grant voting rights to the Bengalis in Assam, estimated to number up to 6 million. A large number of people among the 9 million native Assamese boycotted last week's balloting.