Arms charge Briton to be released from Indian prison

A British man who has spent nearly a decade in prison in India on illegal arms charges is to be released, the Indian Government confirmed today.

During a visit by Home Secretary David Blunkett, Indian Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani said negotiations were under way to free Peter Bleach.

Mr Bleach, from North Yorkshire, was arrested in December 1995 along with five Latvian air crew on charges related to an illegal arms drop in India. All six were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in January 2000.

They were arrested on charges that they parachuted crates of assault rifles, anti-tank missiles, rocket launchers and ammunition into Purulia village in West Bengal. Police had said the cache was for a revolutionary group known as Anand Marg - Path of Bliss.

In February 2000, a Calcutta civil court sentenced Bleach and the Russians to life imprisonment on charges of waging war against India.

However, the five others were pardoned after the Russian government intervened, saying there was little evidence against them and the sentences were too harsh. In July last year, Bleach was refused a pardon for a second time in three years.

British officials are concerned for the deteriorating health of 52-year-old Mr Bleach, and he is believed to been suffering from tuberculosis.

Bleach's elderly mother Oceana Bleach said at her home in Scarborough, North Yorkshire: "I am very thrilled. I hope and pray that it will come to fruition.

"That was my biggest wish for this year that my son would be coming back. He has never lost his spirit that he is fighting for his freedom and for his justice as well. He should have been freed with the Russians of course. There was substantial discrimination, I think."

Mrs Bleach last saw her son more than eight years ago and last heard from him in December.

* An agreement to speed up the deportation of Indian nationals who remain in the UK for too long was signed by the Home Secretary David Blunkett today.

During his six-day visit to the sub-continent, the Indian deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani pledged to increase his government's co-operation with Britain.

Indians who fail to win asylum in the UK and those who overstay on visas will be issued with new travel documents within three months, compared with the existing system which can take up to a year.

Mr Blunkett said: "We believe it is a symbol of our co-operation and our understanding how best to deal with the tremendous challenge of global movement of people.

"We will continue to welcome Indians travelling legitimately to the UK as visitors, students or on business but we will take swift action to remove those who break immigration rules."

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