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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 April 2007, 05:36 GMT 06:36 UK
Vietnam dissident wins reprieve
Ly Tong
Ly Tong has a reputation for staging anti-communist stunts
A Thai appeal court has overturned a decision to extradite a high-profile Vietnamese dissident.

Ly Tong is accused of flying a hijacked plane from Thailand to Vietnam to drop thousands of anti-communist leaflets.

The court ruled that Mr Tong's act was a political rather than a security offence, and decided that he should not be sent to Vietnam to face charges.

Mr Tong spent several years in a Thai jail because of the incident, but the ruling now makes him a free man.

He told reporters outside the court that he now plans to leave Thailand to live in the United States.

A veteran of the former South Vietnam air force, he gained American citizenship after the Vietnam War.

Daredevil reputation

Mr Tong hijacked the aircraft from Thailand in 2000 and flew it over Ho Chi Minh City during a visit by then US President Bill Clinton.

He was arrested by Thai authorities on his return.

He has long argued that he should not be deported to Vietnam because his flight was a political rather than criminal act, and Thai law forbids people to be extradited to face political charges.

The appeal court in Bangkok agreed with him, overturning an original decision made in September.

"Vietnam wants to take the defendant back to prosecute him for a political offence," Judge Wisarut Sirisingh was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

"What [Mr Tong] did caused no harm to the territorial security of Vietnam."

Mr Tong has a reputation for carrying out daredevil stunts against communist countries.

In 2000, he was forced to surrender his pilot's license to US authorities after he illegally entered Cuban airspace and dropped anti-communist leaflets over the island.

In 1992, Mr Tong hijacked a Vietnamese jet and forced the pilot to fly over Ho Chi Minh City as he dropped leaflets calling for an uprising.

He then parachuted out of the aircraft in the hope of leading a popular revolt against the country's communist government.

But instead he was captured by soldiers and sentenced to 20 years in jail.

Vietnamese authorities freed him as part of an amnesty in 1998.

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