Thuingaleng Muivah heads the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), the strongest of the rebel groups in northeast India fighting for an independent state. In his first interview since his release on bail (he was arrested in Thailand in January for possessing a false South Korean passport), he tells TIME Asia contributor Subir Bhaumik that he is more committed to peace than the Indian government. Edited excerpts: TIME: You have lived in Bangkok for several years. Your biggest overseas office has been located in the city since the early I990s. You have used false passports before to move around the world, because you don't have an Indian passport and do not want to have one. Why then were you arrested by the Thai police in January this year?Muivah: We knew for a pretty long time that Indian intelligence agencies were desperately active in Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand, to harm the Naga patriots. They even went to the extent of seeking the help of Interpol to arrest me in Thailand. However, since we had been negotiating with Delhi since I996 and the peace process was in full swing, I did not believe they would press for my arrest or conspire to put me behind the bars. To my utter surprise, the Indian intelligence agencies influenced the Thai authorities into believing that I was a dangerous terrorist who should be in jail, not out of it. Instructions were issued to that effect to the Indian embassy in Bangkok. When Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh was asked during his visit to Bangkok whether there was a peace process going on between India and the NSCN, he flatly denied it. This crucial fact was totally suppressed. Now how can the Indian government do this - - talk to us and then conspire to keep us behind bars? TIME: Has your arrest affected your negotiations with Delhi?Muivah: Indeed it has. I am the NSCN's principal negotiator, so if I am behind bars, there are no talks. Before my arrest, there were several rounds of talks with the Indian delegation, always in places outside India. Now that I am out on bail, we are trying to resume the dialogue. But the Indians will have to honor their commitments, by extending the cease-fire to all Naga-inhabited areas of northeast India. TIME: Why are the talks getting bogged down on the cease-fire issue? Why are substantive political questions, central to your problems with India, not being addressed in your dialogue with Delhi?Muivah: One cannot fight and also talk. Our point is clear: we want a total cease-fire with Indian forces throughout northeast India. Delhi wants the cease- fire to be effective only in the state of Nagaland. Now that state only accounts for a part of the Naga-inhabited areas of northeast India. There are thousands of Nagas living in the neighboring states of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The NSCN is active in those areas, and the Indian army has been attacking us. This cannot go on. Either we have total peace, a complete cease- fire, or we fight. We cannot have partial peace, a limited cease-fire. The cease-fire agreement is an arrangement between two entities, India and the NSCN. It is not territorial and cannot be restricted to Nagaland alone. In our talks with Indian representatives, never were we given to understand that the cease- fire would be restricted to Nagaland. TIME: The state governments of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh refuse to accept an extension of the cease-fire to their states. They think that if that happens, it would give legitimacy to your claims of creating a Greater Naga state.Muivah: We are negotiating with the Indian government, not with those states. TIME: The Chief Minister of Mizoram state, Zoramthanga, who is a former rebel himself, was in Bangkok to discuss the prospects of a settlement of the Naga question? Is there any chance India will use his services to mediate with you?Muivah: Zoramthanga is a very sensible Chief Minister. Having negotiated a settlement with India 15 years ago, he also knows the difficulties involved in peacemaking. He is also concerned about our issue. But it is entirely up to the Indian government to decide who will represent the Prime Minister in the negotiations with the NSCN. Having said that, I must remind you that this is a political problem and demands the wisdom of politicians. (The present Indian negotiator is a former bureaucrat). TIME: The Nagaland Chief Minister, S.C. Jamir, says it is important to include other Naga rebel factions in the talks. What is your reaction to that?Muivah: The government will have to deal with the leaders of the Naga movement, not with puppets and collaborators. These other factions have surrendered the Naga cause and are nothing but traitors. Jamir is trying to use them against us all the time. The NSCN is the only competent national council of the Nagas; it has the Naga people's mandate. It is the only force that saved the Nagas from the tragedy of the treasonable accord of I975.TIME: Time and again, you have said there are elements within the Indian government who are trying to scuttle your negotiations with Delhi? Who are these people?Muivah: Jamir, the Nagaland Chief Minister, is the prime culprit. The Indian Home Ministry is also behind these games. Many liberal Indians want a solution in Nagaland. The rest of the northeast, where there has been so much trouble, is watching how our talks with Delhi go. They are holding back until there is a solution in sight. If our talks with Delhi fail, other revolutionary groups in the northeast will never come to the table. TIME: You continue to adhere to the demand for Naga sovereignity, to the demand of a Greater Naga encompassing Nagaland state, other Naga areas of India, and Burma. Can any government in Delhi accept this unless you agree to find a settlement within the Indian constitution?Muivah: The Indian constitution is for Indians. Don't force it on Nagas. We have our own history. The British imperialists and the Indian expansionists divided the Nagas into several territories. But we remain one people and it is our aspiration to be part of one independent state. We will never surrender that aspiration. TIME: You went to China as a young man when the Cultural Revolution had just started. What were your impressions of the country?Muivah: China was served by two great leaders, Mao Tse-tung and Zhou Enlai. India 's misfortune is that it lost its two greatest leaders just as it became independent. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose died immediately before and after independence. China was well served by Mao and Zhou; if China is a world power today it is because of them. China has been the inspiration for revolutionaries like us, though ours is a national liberation movement, not a proletarian revolutionary movement. TIME: Indian intelligence agencies say you have bought a lot of weapons from the remnants of the China-backed Khmer Rouge and are now trying to smuggle them into India's northeast. They allege you are preparing for a fresh military offensive even when you talk peace?Muivah: That is rubbish. We have enough weapons. The agencies are concocting these charges because they want to scuttle our negotiations with the Indian government. We are serious about peace. That's why we want it to cover the whole Naga-inhabited area of northeast India. We will continue our efforts to find a solution until our patience runs out. Unlike the Indians, we don't talk peace and practice war. We are simple tribal people; we cannot do two things at the same time.