The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bhutan fears rebel backlash

Guwahati, Feb. 5: Bhutan today expressed concern over the security of its nationals travelling through India even as a high-level meeting between the Assam government and a Bhutanese delegation decided to review resumption of bus services between the state and the landlocked Himalayan kingdom.

Bhutanese joint secretary in the home department, Dasho Tsering Wangda, told the media here that after the country flushed out Indian insurgents from its territory in 2003-2004, the threat perception to its citizens travelling through India had increased.

'There is reason for us to worry as we do not know where they (militants) hide in Indian territories. Is it not very natural that there is greater possibility of these forces (the Ulfa and the NDFB) targeting our nationals after the military operations' Wangda asked.

He regretted the fact that despite the age-old good ties between Assam and Bhutan, people of his country have to be escorted by personnel of the Subsidiary Security Bureau (SSB) while travelling through India.

Considering the growing threat perception, the meeting decided to increase the presence of the SSB along the Indo-Bhutan border and develop infrastructure like roads so that maintaining vigil could be easier.

As of now, of the three SSB battalions deployed along the Indo-Bhutan border, two are used to escort Bhutanese nationals while only one battalion mans the border.

Both sides also discussed security measures to be adopted to thwart the threat posed by Maoist rebels of Nepal.

Sources said officials of both sides discussed strategies to bar the rebels from re-entering the jungles in southern Bhutan, bordering Assam, which they had vacated after Operation All Clear.

The 17-member Bhutanese delegation, led by Wangda, and officials of the Assam government, led by home commissioner B.K. Gohain, also held discussions on improving relations between the two neighbours.

Wangda later called on chief minister Tarun Gogoi and apprised him of the developments in the meeting, which ended today.

'We are keeping a close watch on the situation and in our next meeting in Bhutan we will discuss the resumption of bus services,' Wangda said. Prior to the flush-out operation, there were regular bus services from Guwahati to Samdrup Jongkhar and Gelekphu.

To strengthen the co-ordination between the two sides, it was decided to hold regular meetings of the district co-ordination committees. The next meeting of the co-ordination committee will be held after three months in Bhutan.

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