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BHUTAN- Update No.7 : The Refugee question:

 

Dr. S.Chandrasekharan                                                      15.8.99

Since the last update there has been no progress in the refugee question and the hundred and odd thousand refugees of Bhutan continue to languish in the camps of Eastern Nepal.

The comments sent by one of the analysts following the Refugee problem are being given verbatim for the benefit of those concerned with the problem.

What India is trying to do on Bhutan is not clear. The US Assistant Secretary of State visited the camp in 1993 and the US state Department Report is bringing an appropriate report human rights situation in that country. Also, the EU parliament has passed a resolution that  all Bhutanese refugees should be permitted to return to that country. These should have been a hint for India that it must ask the King to give justice to all ethnic groups, not just the Tibeto-Mongoloid groups in the Kingdom. Under India's protection the King is not going to take back the people. Given India's democratic tradition it is sad that a country of India's stature and size should take such an ugly position. The world at large would like India to take a leadership role to sort out this social problem.

We fully agree with the views expressed. Unless India takes a hand in the issue there is no hope of Bhutan and Nepal coming together to get the genuine Bhutanese citizens back to Bhutan.

But there appears to be no change in India’s approach to the Bhutanese Refugee problem. As recently as 2nd August, the Indian Ambassador at a face to face programme organised by the Reporters’ club in Kathmandu repeated the stand of the Indian government that Nepal and Bhutan should resolve the problem bilaterally and added "If help from India is expected to solve the issue it should be left to India to decide if it wants to be involved." No one can force India to get involved, but in the interest of stability and good relations and being the biggest country in the region with special ties to both India and Bhutan, one would expect India to take the initiative.

In Nepal, the Nepali Congress government which has recently been installed seems to be in no hurry to tackle the Bhutanese problem either. The King’s speech to the national legislature did not make any mention of the problem. PM Bhattarai in one of the informal meetings with the local and foreign journalists at his official residence on July 23rd, said "We are currently reviewing it. If only India lends a small helping hand, this problem will be amicably settled. India should advise the Bhutanese government not to evict genuine Bhutanese. It should not allow the Bhutanese to cross over into Nepal."

The National assembly of Bhutan in its recent session has been made to reiterate by a resolution that "all the people who had left the country of their own free will should not be allowed to return." One of the members from Samste said, we quote, "when the people decided to leave from Dorokha, the Dzongda stopped them . . . and even paid them daily allowances for 10 days for them to reconsider their decision . . . We told GYT meetings to find out why they were leaving and they told us they wanted to leave of their own free will. But as soon as they crossed the border, we heard that they were claiming to have been chased out of the country by the government. Once in Nepal they joined the refugees camps where they received free shelter, food and other facilities and began spreading false allegations against us." People who had seen the camps know the conditions of living in the camps. To believe, not one, but more than thirty thousand people to have left their cultivated lands and dwellings to an uncertain future in Nepal voluntarily is an insult to the intelligence of those who follow the refugee question carefully. If the Bhutan government maintains that the refugees left voluntarily (it is being compared to the waters of Himalayas having left the mountains cannot go back to the mountains upstream!), there is an implied admission that they were Bhutanese citizens before. If so, let an impartial court decide whether they left voluntarily as claimed.

Bhutan and ULFA:

In our last update we had mentioned a reference made by the King to the threat posed ULFA militants in Bhutan and his determination to take full "responsibility to safeguard and ensure the security and well being of the country." Taking the cue from the King, the July 17-23 issue of Kuensel reported that there was an intense debate in the National assembly where speaker after speaker referred to the threat posed to the national security by ULFA and Bodo militants and the consensus was that there were two options: either the militants left peacefully, as the government of Bhutan was attempting to resolve the problem through a process of dialogue with the ULFA leadership or they should be made to leave through any other means. For sometime there have been persistent reports that the ULFA military chief Parvesh Barua had been seen in Thimpu and enjoying the hospitality of the Bhutan government during his stay. His presence in Bhutan is now confirmed by the statement of the Home minister in the assembly who for the first time revealed of two rounds of talks held with ULFA leaders, one in November 1998 and again in May 1999.

There were reports in the Press earlier that Bhutan may undertake joint operations with India to clear the ULFA and Bodo camps from Bhutan. This would have been a dangerous course and the approach now being made by the King to persuade them to leave Bhutan voluntarily is a good option.

Resettlement:

Resettlement of people from central and eastern Bhutan in the lands left by the refugees continues. It is claimed by the Secretary Survey that the State-sponsored settlements would not only accelerate economic growth but also strengthen the security of the country. Our view is that this will disturb the harmonious relationship that prevailed amongst various communities in southern Bhutan and is not likely to enhance the security of the country. This will also have a negative impact on the current talks between Nepal and Bhutan.

DNC and democracy:

Chheku Drukpa, Jt. Dy. Chairman of DNC has declared that the aspirations of the Bhutanese will be fulfilled only with the establishment of a multi party, parliamentary system of government under constitutional monarchy and the DNC shall continue its struggle until the goal is achieved. The whole statement is very strongly worded perhaps in response to the orchestrated speeches in the National assembly calling everyone other than those with the government as ngolops (anti-national), denying any position even to the relatives of those and above all accusing them of theft of sacred Buddhist relics!.

The statement of Drukpa refutes the claim that the Bhutanese crisis is an ethnic problem. But the refugee problem is an ethnic one. How else does one explain that more than hundred thousand refugees who are in Nepal are all of Nepalese origin? Why then that all the new settlers sponsored by the State are all of non- Nepali origin?

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