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Bhutan PM follows king on rebel-belt mission

Kokrajhar, Nov. 4: Bhutanese Prime Minister Lyonpo Jigme Yozer Thinley today travelled to the militant-infested Kalikhola area of the Himalayan kingdom via Assam, ostensibly to persuade leaders of the Ulfa, the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) and the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) to close their camps.

Thinley’s visit to the area, seen as a last-ditch attempt by Bhutan to cleanse its territory of militants without using force, follows one by King Jigme Singye Wangchuk a few days ago. Kalikhola is on the trijunction of Assam, Bengal and Bhutan.

Kokrajhar superintendent of police V.K. Ramisetti confirmed that the Bhutanese Prime Minister had passed through the district. He said Thinley was provided armed escorts from Datgiri to Srirampur, on the Assam-Bengal border, in deference to a request from Thimphu.

Thinley is believed to have first gone to Gelemphu and then to Kalikhola, where the Ulfa has a camp. Before him, the Bhutanese monarch had travelled from Samdrup Jongkhar to Gelemphu through Assam. Wangchuk travelled 245 km within Assam — through the four districts of Kamrup, Nalbari, Bongaigaon and Kokrajhar — under heavy security.

Thinley has held six rounds of talks with militant groups — four with the Ulfa and two with the NDFB — since 1998.

A councillor in the Bhutan Embassy in New Delhi, Thinley Panjor, told The Telegraph that the National Assembly had resolved to ask the militants — “one last time” — to leave the Himalayan kingdom without a confrontation. “Beyond that, I cannot say anything,” he said.

According to a list compiled by Bhutan, the Ulfa has nine camps in that country. The NDFB has eight camps and the KLO three.

The Bhutanese government had officially set a July deadline for the militant groups to retreat, but there is still no indication of any of these budging from there.

Bhutan’s restiveness has increased since Wangchuk’s five-day visit to India in September. The king said he had written to the leadership of the Ulfa, the NDFB and the KLO to “resolve the issue of closing down their camps through negotiations”.

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