GUWAHATI, Aug 15 (IANS): People in the restive northeast defied a general strike called by separatist guerrillas to boycott Monday's Independence Day celebrations even as militants staged a bomb blast on a railway track and engaged in fierce gun fight with rival factions in Assam.
A police spokesperson said militants of the Paresh Baruah faction of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom triggered an explosion on a railway track early Monday near Goalpara in western Assam.
"The target was probably a goods train carrying fuel but the explosion took place minutes before the train crossed the area," a police official said.
A large stretch of the track was damaged in the blast.
In eastern Karbi Anglong district, two rival tribal separatist groups were engaged in a fierce gun fight since early Monday.
Militants of the Karbi People's Liberation Tigers (KPLT) attacked the designated camp of the rival Karbi Longri National Liberation Front (KLNLF) and soon there was a gun fight involving the two sides.
"We don't know details of the incident as yet, but the KPLT is claiming they managed to kill a few KLNLF rebels. We are yet to confirm the reports as the location is very remote," the official said.
The KLNLF is operating a ceasefire with New Delhi, while the KPLT is so far opposed to peace talks.
Both groups are demanding a separate state for the Karbi tribes people in eastern Assam.
Meanwhile, officials said public and private vehicles plied normally with people in large numbers attending the Independence Day celebrations in the region despite 12 rebel groups calling a 17-hour general strike that ends at 5 p.m. Monday.
Militant groups in the states of Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, and Tripura announced the boycott call.
"We are keen to hold talks with any militant group if they abjure violence and join the mainstream. Already most of the groups like the ULFA and the NDFB are in peace mode and we hope other groups too join the peace proces," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said in his speech after hoisting the national flag in Guwahati.
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 functions across the region despite boycott calls," Tarun Gogoi said.
"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.
Militants in the insurgency-hit northeast for years have been boycotting the Independence Day and Jan 26 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.