NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ India extended a 16-month-old cease-fire with a major rebel group in northeast Nagaland state, a news agency said Thursday.

A Defense Ministry statement said the cease-fire in the remote state was essential during the Christmas season ``for fostering unity among the people of Nagaland,'' Press Trust of India reported.

The majority of the tribespeople in the state are Christians.

The rebels have been fighting since 1950 to carve a homeland for the Naga tribespeople, the biggest community in the remote mountainous area joined to mainland India by a narrow strip of land north of Bangladesh.

They claim the Naga chieftains who ruled the region were forced to join India when British colonialism ended in 1947.

The rebels did not comment on the cease-fire extension.

While the 16-month-old truce has largely held, there has been little progress toward formal peace talks with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, led by Isac Suu and T. Muivah.

The insurgency has claimed more than 2,000 lives.