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Bhutanese refugees burn PM's image before Indian embassy

Bhutanese students raise anti-India slogans and burn Indian prime minister's effigies to protest against the death of a high school student by security forces.
IANS | By HT Correspondent, Kathmandu
UPDATED ON MAY 30, 2007 06:37 PM IST

Bhutanese students on Wednesday burnt Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's image to protest the killing of a high school student by security forces on Tuesday.

While the Indian embassy in Kathmandu was holding a press conference to celebrate its army's Everest summit almost two weeks ago, the media was training its lenses outside as anti-India slogans rent the air.

"Down with Manmohan Singh," shouted the handful of Bhutanese refugee students assembled in the lane in the capital leading to the Indian embassy.

"We condemn the Indian government" and "India, give us way to return to our homeland" were some of the slogans being shouted.

When Nepal police seized the effigy of the Indian prime minister they were planning to burn, the students brought out Xerox photographs of Singh and set them on fire.

Led by TP Mishra, a 22-year-old journalism student whose parents left Bhutan when he was only six, Ganga Neupane, a 29-year-old who had earlier taken part in earlier campaigns, and Som Subedi, a 25-year-old political science student, the protest was quickly stifled by the Armed Police Force arriving in two trucks.

"We condemn the firing by the Indian border security forces on the Bhutanese refugees on Tuesday when they tried to return to Bhutan via India," Neupane said.

A 20-year-old high school student, Shah Bahadur Dewan, was killed when the Indian Seema Suraksha Bal fired at unarmed refugees, including a large number of women, while nearly 80 people were injured on Tuesday on the Indo-Nepal border near the frontier towns of Kakarbhitta and Panitanki.

"When we came to Nepal through India, the Indian security forces did not stop us," said Subedi.

"In fact, they dumped us by the truckload at the Nepal border. Now that we want to go back the same way, they have to give us way."

There has been escalating tension in the seven camps in Morang and Jhapa districts in eastern Nepal where over 106,000 Bhutanese have been living since the 90s, when they were evicted by the Bhutan government.

The tension was stoked by an offer by the US government to resettle the refugees on American soil, which is being opposed by the group who want to return home.

"We don't have any political affiliations," Subedi said. "We don't advocate either repatriation or resettlement. We say people should have the freedom to do what they want to do.

"If they want to go to the US, they should be allowed. On the other hand, if they want to return to Bhutan, they should be allowed that too."

The Nepal government on Wednesday also beefed up security presence in front of the Indian embassy after the American Ambassador James F Moriarty had stones thrown at the UN vehicle he was travelling in to meet the Bhutanese refugees in Jhapa.

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