The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bhutan king on surprise visit

New Delhi, Nov. 23: King Jigme Singye Wangchuk of Bhutan has decided to come to Delhi for consultations on issues of mutual interest and concern days after Manmohan Singh offered talks with Northeast rebels, particularly the Ulfa.

Bhutan may also be interested in the Sino-Indian boundary talks that national security adviser J.N. Dixit held last week with senior Chinese officials in Beijing.

An area of likely normalisation is in the eastern front bordering Sikkim, which, if it happens, would have a number of implications for Bhutan.

Wangchuk may also discuss with the Indian leadership the issue of a new constitution for his country ' which may be near completion ' that will usher in a host of reforms he has embarked on. Over the past few years, the king has started opening up Bhutan and encouraging more foreign tourists to visit the country.

The foreign ministry statement announcing the trip said Wangchuk will pay a 'working visit' to India between November 24 and 29. He will meet President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Singh, foreign minister K. Natwar Singh and other key members of the United Progressive Alliance government. He will also meet Sonia Gandhi, the UPA chairperson and Congress chief.

The king was scheduled to come to Delhi on a state visit in January next year after being invited by the Centre to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations.

As there is nothing to suggest that the January visit has been called off, Wangchuk's 'unscheduled' visit now gathers significance.

Manmohan Singh had at his recent public rallies in the Northeast, particularly Assam, offered talks with any rebel group of the region that gave up violence, but made it clear that Delhi would not entertain any discussions on demand for sovereignty.

Thimphu's worry over a situation when India would offer peace talks to the rebels was one reason why Bhutan, one of India's closest allies, took so long to launch an armed operation ' kicked off late last year ' against Northeast insurgents (of the Ulfa and the National Democratic Front of Boroland) camping in its territory.

Bhutan is landlocked and completely dependent on routes through Assam and north Bengal for essential supplies to the country. So the regrouping some months ago of the armed rebels expelled from its soil has been a major concern for Thimphu. It may also want to know from the Prime Minister ' who will host a lunch for the king ' about the likely impact on Bhutan if India starts negotiations with Ulfa and Bodo militants.

The foreign ministry's brief statement said: 'It (Wangchuk's visit) will provide an opportunity to discuss bilateral and regional issues of mutual interest.' The visit, it added, would 'further cement the warm and friendly relations' between the two countries.

Crown Prince Chhoetse Penlope Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk will be among the high-level delegation arriving here tomorrow.

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