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Monday, 18 September, 2000, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
Naga rebel freed from Thai prison
Map
A senior rebel leader from the north-east Indian state of Nagaland has been released on bail from a prison in Thailand.

Thuinaleng Muivah who heads the separatist National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) had been imprisoned in Songkhla, southern Thailand, since January.

Mr Muivah was arrested at Bangkok airport while trying to enter Thailand with forged travel documents.

However, the circumstances of the release are not yet clear.

Thuinaleng Muivah
Mr Muivah was imprisoned in January
An NSCN spokesman in Nagaland told the BBC that Mr Muivah had been released from Songkhla prison late on Sunday.

But he is prohibited from leaving Thailand during the period of his trial, police sources told the French news agency, AFP.

False papers

The rebel leader was arrested while trying to enter Thailand on a false South Korean passport in January this year.

He was held again when he tried to jump bail and escape from the country using a false Singapore passport.

A Thai court sentenced him to a year in prison.

But humanitarian groups in Asia and the West pressed for his release.

Naga guerrillas
A violent campaign that has lasted two decades
They argued that Mr Muivah's freedom was crucial for the success of negotiations between the Indian Government and the NSCN.

During Mr Muivah's incarceration, Indian officials and NSCN leaders agreed to extend an ongoing ceasefire between Indian security forces and the rebels.

However, the BBC's Subir Bhaumik says that Delhi refused to intervene directly to secure Mr Muivah's release.

Peace talks

It is not yet clear whether Mr Muivah was let off by the Thai prison authorities of their own accord or as a result of a political decision by Bangkok.

The NSCN has welcomed the release.

It says the peace talks can now move forward in a meaningful way provided Delhi stops its "delaying tactics".

The rebel group has threatened to call off the ceasefire if it is not extended to areas inhabited by ethnic Nagas outside the state of Nagaland.

But the Indian Government has so far rejected their demand.

The two sides have, however, agreed to maintain peace and continue negotiations until the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, returns from a visit to the United States.

The NSCN has been fighting for an independent homeland for over 50 years.

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See also:

03 Jul 00 | South Asia
Naga peace process in doubt
21 Jan 00 | South Asia
Funds for India's north-east
21 Nov 97 | From Our Own Correspondent
The forgotten war in Nagaland
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