Northeast defies rebels’ R – Day boycott call (Lead)

Guwahati, Jan 26 ( People in the northeastern states of Assam, Tripura and Manipur defied a 17-hour shutdown call by separatist rebels to boycott Republic Day and joined in the celebrations Tuesday, officials said.

“Despite a boycott call by militants it is heartening to find people coming to attend Republic Day functions across the region,” Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said in the state’s main city Guwahati.

Five separatist guerrilla groups in the northeast called a 17-hour general strike from 1 a.m. to 6 p.m to boycott the Republic Day celebrations.

These groups are active in Assam, Manipur and Tripura.

“I appeal to all militant groups to shun the path of violence and join the mainstream by holding negotiations to settle their grievances,” Assam Governor J.B. Patnaik said in his Republic Day speech here.

An official said: “People in large numbers across Tripura and Manipur also participated in the celebrations defying the rebel boycott call.”

The run-up to the Republic Day was peaceful compared to previous years, with an estimated 50,000 security personnel deployed in the three northeastern states to foil any terror attacks.

Three explosions rocked Manipur late Monday injuring four people, including two police commandos, while in Assam three militants of the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) were gunned down in an encounter with security forces.

Regional heads in the insurgency-hit states of Manipur and Tripura also appealed to rebel groups to come for peace talks with the government.

“Our doors for talks with militant groups are open. Problems can be resolved through negotiations and not through the barrel of the gun,” Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh said.

Militant groups in the northeast have for years boycotted national events to protest New Delhi’s rule over the oil and timber-rich region.

There are some 30 rebel groups operating in the region with demands ranging from secession to greater autonomy and the right to self-determination.