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People defy separatist boycott call in northeast

People in the restive northeast defied a general strike called by separatist guerrillas to boycott Friday's Republic Day.
None | By Indo-Asian News Service, Guwahati
PUBLISHED ON JAN 26, 2007 12:49 PM IST

People in the restive northeast defied a general strike called by separatist guerrillas to boycott Friday's Republic Day as authorities offered fresh talks with rebels to end decades of insurgency in the region, officials said.

"We are keen to hold talks with any militant group if they abjure violence and join the mainstream," Assam Governor Lt Gen (Retd) Ajai Singh said in his speech after hoisting the national flag in Guwahati.

At least six outlawed rebel groups, including the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), have called a 16-hour general strike from 1 am on Friday to protest the national day celebrations.

Militant groups in the states of Assam, Manipur and Tripura announced the boycott call.

Similar offers for peace talks with rebel groups were made in Tripura and Manipur, both wracked by insurgencies for decades.

"It is heartening to find people coming to attend the Republic Day functions across the region despite boycott calls," said Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.

Officials said public and private vehicles were plying normally with people in large numbers attending the national day celebrations in all the three states.

"There is an open defiance to the rebel boycott call in Assam, Tripura and Manipur with people turning out in strength to participate in the celebrations," officials said.

Thousands of federal soldiers stood guard across the region on Friday to foil rebel strikes.

There has been a wave of separatist attacks in Assam in the run-up to the Republic Day in which 86 people were killed in separate incidents of bombings and shootouts in the past three weeks.

On Thursday night, two people were killed and five injured in three separate explosions in Assam. All the attacks were blamed on the ULFA.

The bombings were preceded by the slaughter from Jan 5-8 in eastern Assam by separatist guerrillas of 73 people, 61 of them being Hindi-speaking migrants.

Militants in the insurgency-hit northeast for years have been boycotting India's Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations to protest New Delhi's rule over the vast region rich in oil, tea and timber.

The run-up to the events has always been violent, with rebels striking vital installations including crude oil pipelines, trains and road and rail bridges, besides targeting federal soldiers.

More than 30 rebel armies operate in the northeastern states, their demands ranging from secession to greater autonomy and the right to self-determination.

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