Hundreds of panic-stricken migrant labourers have started fleeing the insurgency-ravaged Garo Hills region in western Meghalaya after eight coal miners were killed.

A government official said up to 5,000 migrant workers, mainly from Assam, have left several areas of Garo Hills, fearing fresh attacks on non-indigenous workers.

“Despite our best attempts at convincing them that they had adequate security cover, the workers were reluctant to stay back in Meghalaya”, the government official said.

Over 3,000 migrant labourers started fleeing the South Garo Hills district, bordering Bangladesh, following Sunday’s gruesome murder of eight coal miners.

“People are being killed like cats and dogs. I don’t want to get killed here”, said Shafikul Islam, a migrant construction labourer working on a house in South Garo Hills, as he prepared to leave for his native village in Assam.

On Sunday night, eight migrant coal miners were killed and three others wounded in the Garegittim and Nongalbibra areas in Meghalaya’s South Garo Hills district, when a group of unidentified assailants went on a rampage.

Seven of those killed are from Assam’s Goalpara and one from Assam’s Dhubri district.

“About 3,500 migrant workers and those working in coal mine areas in South Garo Hills district have started fleeing to their respective homes for safety in Assam, following the killings”, said Chinmay P. Gotmare, the district magistrate.

Sunday’s gruesome attacks on the coal miners came after a mob turned violent while protesting an alleged bid to molest a mentally-challenged girl on Friday night at Tura, the district headquarters of West Garo Hills.

A migrant labourer from Assam was killed and three vehicles were set ablaze by that mob, forcing authorities to clamp curfew in the entire district.

“Preliminary investigation indicates that the attacks were carried out by coal miners from other mining areas, solely with an intention to create communal tension in the district”, said Davies R. Marak, the district police chief.

“Nonetheless, we are still investigating the exact cause of the incidents that led to the killings to find out the main perpetrators”, Mr. Marak said.

Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, speaking as he chaired the State Security Commission meeting on Monday, condemned both the incidents.

“The government is keeping a close watch on the law and order situation and necessary steps have been taken to contain such instances to ensure that normalcy is restored”, said Mr. Sangma.

Meanwhile, Chief Secretary W.M.S. Pariat said the security situation in some parts of the Garo Hills region was a matter of concern.

“We are keeping a close watch on the situation in Garo Hills and adequate security forces have been put in place to maintain the law and order situation”, Mr. Pariat said.

Moreover, he said the state government has sought three to four companies of paramilitary forces to be deployed in Garo Hills.