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Bhutan drive to remove mistrust

Guwahati, Sept. 8: The Indo-Bhutan Friendship Society has decided to set up a branch here in a bid to remove the “feeling of mistrust and enmity” that has developed between Assam and neighbouring Bhutan because of repeated militant attacks on citizens of the Himalayan kingdom.

The Internet edition of Bhutan’s national newspaper, Kuensel, reported that the association, set up in 1978, is planning to set up a branch office in the Assam capital with the aim of “establishing people-to-people contact”.

A delegation of the association, led by its president and former Assam Governor Bhishma Narayan Singh and secretary-general R.N. Anil, was in Thimphu this week to improve ties with Bhutan, the online newspaper said.

The delegation called on King Jigme Singye Wangchuk and exchanged views with the office-bearers of its sister organisation in the Himalayan kingdom, the Bhutan-India Friendship Association.

The newspaper said members of both associations were unanimous in the view that though there is “close and constant exchange between the two governments”, lack of “people-to-people contact” in these troubled times has led to mistrust.

The visit by the Indo-Bhutan Friendship Society team followed one by external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha. The aim of the visit — Sinha’s first to a foreign country since exchanging portfolios with Jaswant Singh — was to convince Bhutan to launch a crackdown on militants using its territory.

Militants of the Ulfa and the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) have attacked Bhutanese security personnel and civilians several times in the recent past. With the royal government imposing restrictions on travel to Assam, trade has been affected.

The historical Darranga market on the Indo-Bhutan border is on the verge of closure as Bhutanese traders have been asked not to visit the area because of an increase in militant activity.

Highly-placed sources in Dispur said the attacks by Ulfa and NDFB militants on Bhutanese security personnel and civilians were “warnings” to Thimphu against using force to evict them from the Himalayan kingdom.

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