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India Seems Ready to Release British Gun Runner - 2004-01-30

India looks ready to release from prison a British citizen convicted of smuggling weapons to rebel groups in the east of the country during the mid-1990s.

Briton Peter Bleach was sentenced to life in prison for parachuting crates of rifles, missiles and rocket launchers into eastern India in 1995. The region is home to a handful of rebel groups fighting against rule by New Delhi.

India's deputy prime minister, Lal Krishna Advani, remarked on the possibility of Bleach's release after meeting British Home Secretary David Blunkett in New Delhi Friday.

"The matter is being actively considered," he said. "I have just mentioned to Mr. Blunkett that this would be possible."

So far, no firm decision has been announced and no release date has been set.

Bleach worked with five Russian Latvians who flew the plane that dropped the weapons shipment into the state of West Bengal. All six men were convicted of arms smuggling and sentenced to life in prison, but the Russians were pardoned and released after Moscow intervened.

Bleach's appeals had been rejected by the Indian courts. However, British Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed Bleach's case with Mr. Advani in London last June, and Mr. Advani reportedly said then that he would review the case.

India and Britain signed an agreement Friday to share intelligence in order to combat terrorism, and to help stop the flow of illegal migrants to the United Kingdom.