At least six tribal separatists were killed and several others injured in heavy fighting between two rival rebel groups in Nagaland.
A police spokesperson said a group of heavily armed militants belonging to the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) on Thursday attacked a camp of the rival group headed by guerrilla leader SS Khaplang (NSCN-K) near village Medziphema, about 70 km from Kohima.
"Two NSCN-K militants were killed and a few more injured in the attack. The NSCN-K cadres were taken by surprise when NSCN-IM rebels descended," a senior police official told IANS. In retaliatory strikes, NSCN-K rebels shot dead two NSCN-IM cadres in a daring raid in one of their camps located near Dimapur, the commercial hub of Nagaland.
"In another encounter between the two NSCN factions, one each from either group were killed on the outskirts of Dimapur," the official said. NSCN-IM rebels have also taken a leader of the rival group hostage.
The two NSCN groups are operating a ceasefire with New Delhi. The NSCN-IM is currently holding talks with the Indian government after entering into a truce in 1997. The Khaplang faction of the NSCN is yet to begin formal peace talks although it entered into a truce in 2001.
"Under the ceasefire agreement, cadres of both the NSCN groups were to keep themselves confined to their designated camps. The attack by the Isak-Muivah group on one of the designated camp of the Khaplang faction is definitely a violation of the ceasefire terms," the police official said.
The two NSCN groups have been engaged in a bitter turf war for territorial supremacy in the area.
"The NSCN-IM cadres are getting increasingly restive and desperate as peace talks with New Delhi have almost fizzled out and deadlocked," senior NSCN-K leader Kughalo Mulatonu told IANS.
More than 200 rebels were killed in separate clashes between the two warring militant groups in the past three years.