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 Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 07:33 GMT
Indian celebration faces rebel boycott
Indian troops patrol a bridge in Gauhati, Assam
Security has been stepped up throughout the region
Eleven separatist groups based in India's north-east have called for a boycott of the country's Republic Day celebrations.

The groups say their protest marks their struggle against "Indian occupation".

Genuine and lasting peace in our region can be possible only when we have freedom and independence

Rebel statement
But one of the most powerful rebel groups in the region, representing the Naga people, has not joined in the protest.

Senior Naga leaders are currently engaged in landmark peace talks with the Indian Government in Delhi.

On Sunday India will celebrate 53 years of becoming a sovereign republic.

The day is traditionally marked with colourful parades and pageants, as well as being used to illustrate India's military might.

But separatist rebels in the north-east say the day symbolises their "colonial bondage" under Indian "occupation".

"It is therefore in the interests of the entire people of the region that Republic Day be boycotted as a symbolic rejection of India's constitution," a statement circulated by the groups said.

"Genuine and lasting peace in our region can be possible only when we have freedom and independence."

Nagaland

But one of the most powerful groups in the north-east, the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) is not part of the boycott.

Map showing Nagaland and Manipur
While a breakaway faction of the NSCN is observing a ceasefire, the main faction is holding talks with Indian Government officials in Delhi.

Earlier this week, its leaders said the group would not target Indian security forces in the future.

The climb-down has raised hopes of a settlement of one of the longest running insurgencies in the country, which began soon after independence in 1947.

Violence

Indian officials say security has been stepped up throughout the north-east in anticipation of increased attacks in the run-up to Republic Day.

On Wednesday, the outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa) said it had killed 15 Indian soldiers in an attack on an army outpost in the district of Tinsukia.

A military spokesman confirmed the attack but said there were no casualties.

Earlier this week rebels blew up a rail track in Assam, derailing four coaches of a passenger train.

No one was hurt in the attack.

See also:

26 Nov 02 | South Asia
15 Jun 01 | South Asia
20 Jan 03 | South Asia
10 Jan 03 | South Asia
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