India police arrest Swiss national over Maoist meeting

NEW DELHI - Police have arrested a Swiss national in southern India for allegedly taking part in a meeting sympathising with Maoist rebels, a Swiss government official said Wednesday.

The man, identified as Jonathan Bold and Jonathan Clode in various media reports, was arrested on Tuesday for breaching restrictions on his tourist visa after he participated in a gathering to pay tribute to a Maoist activist, reports said.

"The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) confirmed the arrest of a Swiss citizen in India," Pierre-Alain Eltschinger, a Swiss DFA spokesman, told AFP in an email.

"The DFA is in contact with the Indian authorities." The national, who arrived in India with his partner on July 1, also attended a political meeting of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to protest against bombings in Gaza, according to reports.

"As per visa rules, a foreigner is forbidden from taking part in such meetings," senior district police official N. Vijaykumar was quoted by the Times of India and other media as saying.

"Our officials are questioning him. At times, he speaks in French and in English and appears to be hiding information. We are seeking his remand and will produce him before a magistrate." Times Now news channel's website showed footage of the bespectacled Swiss citizen, sitting on a makeshift bed and smiling at the camera at a police station in Thrissur district, about 280 kilometres (175 miles) from Kerala state capital Thiruvananthapuram.

The Maoist insurgency in India has cost thousands of lives. The rebels are believed to be present in at least 20 states but are most active in the states of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.

The presence of foreigners in areas controlled by Maoists is a sensitive issue in India. A French group was accused of Maoist ties in 2012 in northeastern Bihar state, just a month after two Italian men were abducted by Maoist rebels in Orissa state.

They were both later released unharmed.

India's Maoist guerrillas, who claim to be fighting for the rights of poor tribal minorities and farmers, have waged a decades-long battle across central and eastern states to overthrow state and national authorities.

They often target police and government officials in deadly ambushes and mine attacks.