The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Monday, September 4, 2006

Kuensel on the Turn

US congressional delegation visits Bhutan
Posted on Saturday, September 02, 2006, @ 04:02:10

EDT 2 September 2006- The issue of the people in the camps in Nepal was one of the easier issues of the world today to resolve, said Republican Congress member Mr. Jim Kolbe who led a US congressional delegation to Bhutan on a three-day visit from August 28-31.

His Majesty the King with (from left) Mr. Brian Baird, Mr. Jim Kolbe and Mr. and Mrs. Crenshaw

“I realise that Bhutan questions the use of the word refugees and would argue that they are truly people who are from Nepal who came illegally to Bhutan and have now returned and don’t qualify to be refugees,” said Mr. Kolbe who is the Chairman of the Sub Committee on Foreign Operations. “Nonetheless, they are still in camps and some of them, may be many of them, are people who do qualify to come back to Bhutan because they are and were citizens of this country.”
Mr. Kolbe said that there needs to be some show of good faith on the part of the Bhutanese government to return or repatriate even a small number of those that they have agreed are citizens.
The rest, he said, could either be reintegrated into society in Nepal, India, or if they believe Bhutan is their homeland and they are not able to return, be resettled in third countries like the US.
The US, he said, has agreed to take up to 50,000 or up to 70,000 of these people. Australia and Canada has also agreed to take in smaller numbers.
“That would eliminate a vast majority of this problem and it remains a contentious issue between Nepal and Bhutan,” said Mr. Kolbe. “We hope that in the next few months, after 16 years, to be able to resolve this problem.”
The delegation, which received an audience with His Majesty the King on August 30, said they were privileged to be in Bhutan, which was at the birth of a democratic republic and impressed by how His Majesty had studied the state of the world, related it to the country and its future, involved the ministers and the people and decided on democratising the country.
“For a monarch to voluntarily have faith in his people, to vest power into them and place the future of the country in their hands was tremendously courageous and wise, not just to do it, but the manner in which it is being done,” said US House, Washington State Democrat, Mr. Brian Baird, a member of the delegation. “It is very deliberative, thoughtful, methodical and systematic way of preparing leadership and citizens for this important transition.”
The delegates said that although the US started a democratic form of government more than 200 years ago they had not been perfect. “We have made many changes and had enormous struggles,” said Mr. Baird. “But the wisdom of the people overtime moves forward and I think then it is incumbent on the people.”
“One of the things that we stressed with His Majesty and the ministers is that it is never easy, you never know how it’s going to turn out,” said Republican Congress member Andrew Crenshaw, who was part of the delegation. “But when you trust the people and give them the power then you can work through whatever conflicts or problems there are.”
“I hope that as history is being made in Bhutan, we can look back and see what the King and the people had done and say here is democracy and it is still going, had struggles but people still have the power,” said Mr. Crenshaw.
The challenge for the Bhutanese people, the delegates said, would be making decisions that were in best interest of the country as a whole when democracy moves forward, not just for today but for years to come.
Mr. Kolbe said that although there was very little US assistance in Bhutan, one area of cooperation the US hoped to continue was cultural and educational exchanges and opening opportunities for trade of crafts and other Bhutanese products in the US. “Bhutan is seeking membership of the WTO which will give it a voice in the process of trade negotiations,” he told Kuensel.
The delegates also expressed their admiration for the steps taken to preserve the environment, which was not only central to the Bhutanese way of life but a cherished paradise for all humanity.
“We are extraordinarily impressed by His Majesty and the government and their commitment to democracy in this country,” said Mr. Kolbe.

By Samten

From Kuensel

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