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Bhutan nears its point of reckoning

New Delhi, Sept. 16: King Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s state visit to India comes a month after Bhutan’s National Assembly instructed the government to make one last attempt to persuade the militants to dismantle their 20 camps in Bhutan.

Assembly members decided that if this failed, Bhutan would have to make use of its last option: military action.

This brings to a head a resolution by Bhutan’s highest legislative body to adopt a four-pronged strategy in dealing with the militants: to stop Bhutanese citizens from helping the militants; to punish anyone found assisting the militants; to persuade the militants to leave Bhutan peacefully and military action.

The visit was marked by the revelation by the king that the Bhutanese government had recently invited leaders of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) for talks in Thimphu. “We are hoping that, through a process of dialogue, we can peacefully resolve the problem,” he said.

Following an earlier agreement with the Bhutanese government, the Ulfa dismantled four out of nine camps in December 2001. However, after re-establishing some of them, the militant organisation is now believed to have eight camps with 1,560 militants in Bhutan. The National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) has eight camps with about 740 militants and the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) has nearly 430 militants inside Bhutan.

Bhutanese home minister Thinley Gyamtsho told the National Assembly in July that the militants had not responded to Bhutanese proposals for dialogue in the past two years.

“The militants have shown a total disregard for the continuous initiatives and efforts on the part of the Bhutanese government to find a peaceful solution to the problem,” Gyamtsho said. “They neither respect nor fear the government and the Royal Bhutan Army. They believe that, since no action has been taken against them so far, none will be taken by the royal government of Bhutan in the future.”

Bhutan sees the militant problem as the most grave security situation the present generation has faced.

If the government resorts to military action, it is expected to result in largescale loss of property, schools and hospitals would be closed, economic development impeded, and more than 66,000 people directly affected in 304 villages.

If not, the militants might continue to expand their increasingly blatant presence in the country. “We are a helpless victim whichever way we look at it,” said a Bhutanese Assembly member. “To be honest, most of us do not even understand the background of the problem because the real problem is in India. Most important, we do not fully understand the long-term implications of the problem.”

Referring to the security problem posed by the estimated 2,800 Indian militants camping in his country, the king said he was confident that working closely with the government of India, “the problem could be resolved in the near future”.

King Wangchuck told journalists in Delhi, after high-level meetings with the Indian leadership, that “so long the government of Bhutan and the government of India work closely together, so long we have the goodwill and friendship and support of the President and Prime Minister of India, I am confident that this problem can be resolved in the near future”.

The king, who completes his five-day visit tomorrow, was hopeful that the two governments would remain in close touch and continue to “work hard” on the problem.

“Bhutan is fully committed to the understanding between us, as close friends and allies, that we will not allow our territories to be used by anyone for carrying out activities that are harmful to each other’s national interests,” he said.

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