The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bhutan toys with throwing out rebels

New Delhi, July 7: After several rounds of talks with Northeast rebels based on its soil, Bhutan thinks the insurgents may not be sincere about leaving. This leaves Thimphu no other option but to use force to eject the “undesired elements” from its territory.

There are over 2,000 rebels operating from different camps in southern Bhutan for many years. The United Liberation Front of Asom is the biggest insurgent group there, but the National Liberation Front of Boroland and the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation have also found a safe haven in Bhutan.

The Bhutanese National Assembly, which is in session now, is expected to review the government’s stand on the insurgents shortly. A final decision will be taken after the issue is discussed in the Assembly.

“We want a peaceful resolution of this problem. And with this in mind we have held several rounds of talks with the insurgents,” Bhutanese ambassador in Delhi Dago Tshering said.

But he admitted that the negotiations had not yielded the desired results as the armed rebels kept shifting camps. “In the past, they had closed down some of the camps. But they have relocated to other areas,” Tshering said.

He said Bhutan had exhausted almost all options and may have to push the rebels out.

But Tshering said that even after Bhutan ejects the insurgents, “the ultimate solution lies with India”.

The ambassador said no deadline has been set for the rebels to leave. There were reports that Thimphu had set a June 30 deadline, but the rebels had not responded in time.

“There was no deadline set by the government. We know the seriousness of the problem and we are trying our best to handle it in the most responsible manner,” Tshering said. “The presence of the Northeast insurgents also poses a serious security threat to Bhutan,” he added.

The rebels’ presence in Bhutan has been the one sore point in an otherwise “excellent” relationship between the neighbours. India considers Bhutan one of its closest allies and the security of the countries are interlinked and interdependent.

The insurgent camps came to Bhutan’s notice in 1996. Considering its army was hardly equipped to force the rebels out, Thimphu tried to persuade the insurgents to leave without bloodshed.

But many in India see this as an attempt by Bhutan to drag its feet over a sensitive issue. It has often been asked why Thimphu cannot deal more firmly with the insurgents. But Bhutan contests this view. It lists a number of measures that it has taken in the recent past to resolve the problem peacefully.

The rebel camps are situated in southern Bhutan which borders Bengal and Assam, from where most of its essential supplies come. Thimphu is worried that any drastic step against the rebels could affect this supply line.

Bhutan has just set up a new 10-member council of ministers and portfolios will be allotted soon. Once a new home minister is appointed, one last round of negotiations will be held with the rebels.

“This will be the last time that we will try to convince them to leave the country peacefully. But if it fails, we will have no other option but to use force to drive them out,” Tshering said.

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