Local tribesmen in remote Tripura state attacked minority settlers in four days of rioting and arson that have left more than 300 persons dead and nearly 5,000 injured, officials said yesterday.

The announcement of the death toll by state and federal officials was the first indication of the seriousness of the rioting that began Friday. Most foreigners, including journalists, are banned from the state and until yesterday, official reports had put the death toll at more than 20 persons.

The riots were touched off by an altercation between tribal youths and a Nepalese shopkeeper. The bloodshed that followed was the worst since antialien agitation began in the state of Assam nine months ago and spread to other parts of India's northeast.

The Indian government has sent 3,500 troops to the area in an effort to restore order, according to the state's cheif minister, Nripen Chakraborty. He told United News of India that the death toll is likely to climb higher when reports from remote villages are received.

Demands by local inhabitants throughout India's northeast that foreigners -- mainly Bangadleshis and Nepalese -- be expelled from the region has heightened tensions steadily since September.

Months of talks between regional leaders and members of the central government have failed to resolve the problem.

Linked to the rest of India by a narrow strip of Indian territory, much of the hilly, heavily forested region is populated by tribes who feat their culture is in danger of being lost under the influx of the foreigners.