VANCOUVER (AFP) - Young Indo-Canadian and South Asian deceased men dominate police files in Canada's westernmost province of British Columbia like no other ethnic groups.

And the province is setting up a special police task force following the deaths of 90 men in extreme gang violence since 1992.

Spokesman Shinder Kirk said 50 officers have joined the task force in recent weeks from the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police and municipal forces. By fall, it will be at full strength at 80 investigators.

The move came after a plea for help from community leaders, citing extreme concerns from local people over "what was happening in their community, involving their young men," according to Kirk.

The spokesman said there has been a major attitude shift from past practice of trying to avoid publicity to openly talking about the problem.

Balwant Singh Gill, president of an association of 36 Sikh temples in British Columbia, a leader in the fight against gang violence, said: "Its come to a point where its the responsibility of not only parents, but of police, teachers, councilors' and social workers."

Officially the task force will investigate any gangs, but Kirk said its first focus is Indo-Canadian and South Asian gangs.

Almost all the victims died in the metropolitan area around this major port city of Vancouver.

The Canadian government has also announced funding for a committee to study the causes of Indo-Canadian youth violence.

A typical case is that of Saranjit Gary Rai, who was 22 in 2001 when he was "shot to death, execution-style, by a single gunman in a hair salon," Vancouver police said.

Another is Robby Kandola, 31, "a well-known underworld figure in the Indo-Canadian community," who died in a 2002 drive-by shooting outside his highrise apartment in the upscale city centre, police said.

Solving the problem wont be simple. Big money can be made growing marijuana, smuggling it across the US border and bringing back cocaine and guns.

And there are many theories about why a disproportionate number of Indo-Canadians are involved. "One theory is the cultural issue, where sons are favoured more than daughters and allowed more freedom and get away with more," said Kirk.

"Then theres the nature of the culture, in which young people are expected to live in two worlds. Theres confusion. They ask, what am I, Canadian? Indian? Indo-Canadian?"

Some, however, deny the problem lies within the culture. After one young man was charged in a kidnapping in May, his prominent Sikh father blamed the Hells Angels motorcycle gang, accusing it of using young Indo-Canadians in organized crime.

A spokesperson for the biker gang dismissed the comment as "nonsense."

Political science professor Shinder Purewal said the ethnic gang members come from families in all social-economic brackets.

Gangs exist in all other cultures and cities, he said, but the extent of the murders among Indo-Canadians here is extreme. "Its really a unique phenomenon that these people are killing each other."

And while only a tiny percentage are in gangs, Purewal said, the sensational murders have given the entire community an "image problem."

Gill agreed. "Our reputation is being tarnished by the murders and violence."

Mr. Bilson