Late on Monday, an Indian railway official had announced that communist insurgents attacked two trains, one of them a passenger train with more than 200 people aboard.

Details were scant, but the railway official in the eastern state of Jharkhand said the driver of a cargo train reported that his train and another passenger train had come under attack from Maoist rebels.

AK Shukla, the divisional railway manager, said the cargo train had managed to escape but efforts to contact the passenger train had failed.

On Tuesday, KK Sone, the top official in Latehar district, a relatively inaccessible part of India where the seizure occurred, said the rebels had fled by the time authorities arrived at the scene, in an isolated part of Jharkhand state, just after dawn.

Nobody hurt

"It appears that they just wanted to prove a point that they could do such a thing," Sone told The Associated Press. He said there had been no shooting, and that none of the 50 or so passengers on the train had been hurt.

The CNN-IBN television news station had reported on Monday that the train's driver and a guard were taken hostage by the insurgents.

Shukla said the train had left a station at the town of Gharha at around 7pm (1330 GMT) and had been expected to make its next stop about two hours later but never arrived.

Maoist insurgents in India often
attack landlords and policemen

The rebels, known as Naxalites, say they are fighting to defend the rights of the poor and are active in several eastern and southern Indian states.

Sone said the insurgents had called for a weeklong general strike in Latehar to protest against the recent killing of one of their regional commanders by security forces.

CNN-IBN said the Naxalite attack came in retaliation for the killing.

The insurgents often attack landlords and police, and in Jharkhand they have also targeted government officials, whom they accuse of allowing outsiders to exploit the state's rich mineral resources.

Past attacks

The rebels claim to be inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong.

Among the most recent attack they have launched, was a 28 February assault on a convoy on trucks in the central state of Chhattisgarh. The rebels blew up one of the truck and set two others on fire, killing 24 people and injuring 32 others.

The rebels have also periodically launched attacks on India's sprawling rail network, which covers more than 64,000 km, has 7000 stations and provides millions of people with a cheap way to travel.