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Bhutan refuses third country intervention in refugee row

world Updated: Apr 16, 2011 12:40 IST
Utpal Parashar
Utpal Parashar
Hindustan Times
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Bhutan has refused intervention by India or any other country in resolving the dispute over 60,000 refugees residing in camps located in eastern Nepal.

Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Y Thinley who is on a three-day Nepal visit even refused to acknowledge that the refugees were Bhutanese nationals who had been forcibly evacuated from the country.

"There is no role for any third country in this issue. The refugees came to Nepal via India, but that doesn’t mean India will play a role in addressing the issue," Thinley told newspersons here on Saturday.

He however agreed to resume talks (which had broken down in 2003) on the contentious issue with Nepal. No date has been set for the deliberations.

Over 100,000 Bhutanese nationals of Nepali origin had left the country in the 1990s and settled in Nepal following alleged persecution by the country’s government as part of ethnic cleansing.

Nearly 44,000 of these refugees have been repatriated to eight western nations as part of third country settlement.

The rest still reside in seven camps located in eastern Nepal.

While Nepal wants Bhutan to take back these refugees, Bhutan terms them as "stateless people" whose identities and background are yet to be settled.

"These are economic, social and political refugees. Some of them were illegal migrants who chose to leave Bhutan. But whether or not they are Bhutanese citizens is a subject of discussion," he said.

Stressing that these people, who comprised one-fifth of Bhutan's population, were not expelled, Thinley cited examples of how people of Nepali origin still enjoy political and other rights in Bhutan.

The Bhutanese PM also allayed fresh fears that his government is planning to expel another 80,000 persons of Nepali origin from the country.

Thanking the international community for its intervention in resettling the refugees, Thinley expressed the hope that the issue will have a speedy resolution through bilateral negotiations.