In a significant breakthrough that could provide the first evidence of alleged Chinese involvement in supply of arms to Indian insurgent outfits,Thailand on Saturday picked up a key middleman whose identity had been disclosed by arrested National Socialist Council of Nagaland (I-M) operative Anthony Shimray.
Willy Naruenartwanicha,referred to as Willy Narue by Shimray,is a Thai national and was picked up at Indias request. According to Shimray,Willy brokered significant arms deals between Chinese suppliers and Northeast insurgent outfits.
A team from the National Investigative Agency is learnt to have reached Bangkok after Thai authorities agreed to grant access for questioning. Sources said the process for extradition has been initiated.
The arrest,from Willys home in Bangkok,is therefore technically provisional for now and is dependent on the fate of the extradition request. Police Col Charoen Sisasalak said Willy,57,was accused of buying weapons to be sold to Naga rebels in northeastern India.
During initial questioning,Willy told police he was a restaurant owner in Bangkok and denied any involvement in arms deals,Charoen added.
Ostensibly running a spa business in Thailand,Willy had emerged as a key figure during the interrogation of Shimray,who had bewildered Indian interrogators with the details of his alleged dealings,the quantum of arms and ammunition involved and the sheer expanse of his reported network from China and North Korea to Thailand and Bangladesh,Nepal,Myanmar.
Shimray had reportedly told interrogators that Willy was his main interlocutor with Chinese arms dealers and had brokered a $2 million deal involving supply of some 1,000 firearms,including 600 AK-47s and ammunition. The deal,according to the NIA chargesheet,was renegotiated to $1 million.
Following this,Shimray had come to India to both renew his Thai visa and apparently discuss the deal with his NSCN leadership. He had come in from Nepal,but the NIA,acting on a tip-off,had arrested him at Patna station on October 2,2010.
He had allegedly revealed that he had met Willy just a week before in Bangkok to firm up the deal,and further claimed that Willy had in 2007 taken him to a Chinese named Yuthan,a reliable conduit for Chinese supplies. Yuthan was allegedly working with TCL,a firm that acted as a front for Chinese arms company China Xinshidai.
This set off investigators on Willys trail. He was named in the NIAs chargesheet against Shimray and a non-bailable warrant was issued in his name. A red corner notice had also been issued against him.
While India did take up Shimrays revelations with China in the bilateral dialogue on counter-terrorism,the Chinese fimly denied them. Willys arrest,interrogation and possible extradition could throw more light on the Chinese connection.
Investigators tracking this case and other leads on supplies to the Northeast believe that many insurgent groups there have become conduits for arms supplies. As some other cases have shown,Maoists have been channeling their requests for supplies through these groups.
Shimrays interrogation had revealed that his preferred route to smuggle in such supplies was through the Bangladesh border via Coxs Bazar. India had not conclusively developed a trail of evidence beyond this and thats why Willys arrest is important.