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Calcutta - Four men were burnt to death in eastern India as suspected punishment for stealing cattle from a rival criminal gang, a senior police officer said on Monday.

The four charred bodies were found in a village in West Bengal state, close to the border with Bangladesh, on Sunday evening, the police commissioner of nearby Siliguri city said.

Two of the bodies were found inside a burnt-out van, also containing one of the suspected stolen cows, while the other two bodies were found nearby, police commissioner Jagmohan, who uses only one name, told AFP.

“There were injury marks on the heads and other parts of the bodies. We suspect that the four men were beaten up before being set on fire,” Jagmohan said.

“Two of them were burnt beyond recognition while the other two bodies were partially charred,” he said.

“Preliminary investigation has revealed that the incident was a fallout between two groups of (rival) cattle smugglers.”

No arrests have been made over the incident at Balaram Jote village, about 600km from Calcutta.

“The bodies were sent to a state-run hospital for post mortem.”

Cattle-stealing for smuggling across the border into Bangladesh is a common problem in the area, according to authorities.