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Cry for clarity in Bhutan stand

New Delhi, Sept. 15: India today denied setting a deadline for Bhutan to evict militants of the Northeast from its territory, but stressed the need for “clarity and political will” to deal with the rebels.

Foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal’s remark on the presence of militant camps in Bhutan — the only blotch on the “exemplary bilateral relations” between the neighbours — came after King Jigme Singye Wangchuk said he had written to the militant leadership, inviting them for negotiations.

The monarch, who arrived here last night on a five-day official visit, explained his strategy to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee during a banquet in his honour. This is the first visit by Wangchuk to India since 1999.

Sibal’s response to the Bhutanese king’s stand indicates that though Delhi is concerned over the continued presence of militant outfits from the Northeast in Bhutanese territory, it does not want to say or do anything that might embarrass Thimphu.

The foreign secretary, however, admitted that there had been a delay in solving the problem. He said militants had been operating from their bases in Bhutan for nearly 12 years and the number of such groups had increased.

“First, there was only one insurgent group. But over the years, two more have set up camps in Bhutan,” he added.

The senior bureaucrat, however, did not cast aspersions on Thimphu, saying the royal government was aware of the problem and trying its best to solve it.

The Bhutanese king, too, said the people of his country wanted militants out of their territory as soon as possible.

“I have written to the representatives of these organisations to come to Thimphu so that the issue can be resolved through dialogue,” Wangchuk said after being given a ceremonial welcome at Rashtrapati Bhavan this morning.

He said the National Assembly of Bhutan last month decided to invite leaders of the Ulfa, the National Democratic Front for Boroland and the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation for negotiations in Thimphu.

In a statement later in the day, the Bhutanese embassy here said the king hoped “the problem can be resolved peacefully through a process of dialogue, namely by removing the militant camps which have been illegally and forcefully established by the militants inside Bhutan”.

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