Karachi: Pakistan on Thursday freed 26 Indian fisherman, including one suffering from bone cancer, from a jail in the southern port city of Karachi as a goodwill gesture. Twenty-five fishermen will be repatriated via the Wagah land border crossing tomorrow, while Samant Lakshman Bambhaniya, who is suffering from cancer, will be flown back to his home in Gujarat.

Eight more Indian prisoners from other Pakistani jails will also be freed and will join those being repatriated from the border on Friday. Bambhaniya, who was detained at Malir Jail in Karachi for the past seven months after being arrested on charges of illegally crossing the maritime boundary, told the media he had taken up a job as a fisherman to pay off his debts.

"There was no one else in my family to earn a living. I was suffering from bone cancer and had spent a lot of money on my treatment. Other members of my family were ill too and I began working as a fisherman to pay off my debts," he said.

Jail officials handed gifts to the fishermen before they boarded a bus that will take them to the eastern city of Lahore. Officials said the fishermen were being freed as a "goodwill gesture".

Their release came days after President Asif Ali Zardari met Indian Prime Miniter Manmohan Singh for lunch in New Delhi on the first visit by a Pakistani head of state in seven years.

Nazeer Husain Shah, Superintendent of the Malir Jail, said another 423 Indian fishermen were still in the prison.

The trial of 50 of them was underway while 206 were serving their sentences. The others had completed their sentences but Indian authorities were yet to verify their identity, Shah told reporters.

Pakistan and India arrest scores of fishermen every year on charges of violating territorial waters. Pakistani officials say over 150 Pakistani fishermen are currently in Indian prisons.

The two countries have released scores of prisoners, a majority of them fishermen, since they resumed their peace process last year after a gap of over two years in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

The two sides are working on an arrangement for the speedy repatriation of fishermen detained for inadvertently crossing the maritime boundary.