The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Monday, November 13, 2006

Bhutanese youth in exile prefer Home to Foreign country.

NEPAL: Bilateral refugee talks planned
13 Nov 2006

KATHMANDU, 13 November (IRIN) - Bhutanese refugees taking shelter in seven camps in eastern Nepal are pinning their hopes for a lasting solution to their plight on forthcoming bilateral talks between Kathmandu and Bhutanese government officials, said a spokesman for the refugees in the capital on Monday.

According to Nepali foreign ministry officials, talks with their Bhutanese counterparts have been slated for 22 and 23 November in Thimpu, capital of Bhutan, where they hope to reach a final decision on the fate of the 106,000 refugees.

Most of the refugees are ethnic Nepalese, known as Lhotsampas. They were evicted from their homes in Bhutan in 1990 after the government introduced a new citizenship law that disenfranchised them and deprived them of citizenship and their civil rights. Most of them fled to Nepal where they have been living in refugee camps in the Morang and Jhapa districts of eastern Nepal, nearly 700 km east of the capital.

According to the Bhutanese Refugee Representatives Repatriation Committee (BRRRC), more than 15 rounds of bilateral negotiations over more than a decade between Nepal and Bhutan have failed to resolve the refugees' plight.

"This round of talks will be ground-breaking, unlike the previous ones when all the talks ended without any conclusion," said prominent local rights activist Gopal Siwakoti, who has been advising the Nepalese delegation in their preparation for the talks.

Kathmandu appears to want to facilitate discussion between the government of Bhutan and the refugees.

"Nepal will make its position clear by saying that our country is simply extending its traditional hospitality to shelter the refugees but the problem should be sorted out directly between the refugees and the Bhutanese government," said an official from the foreign ministry who declined to be named.

For the last five months, refugees have been staging an ongoing protest in front of the United Nations office in the capital to try and focus international attention on the need for a proper settlement of their situation.

"We are hopeful that some solution will come up during the talks," said Govinda Sharma, an 18-year-old refugee who explained that most of the youth like him want to return home and not resettle in a foreign country.

Other refugees say the onus is on Bhutan to come up with an offer acceptable to those who had been forced to leave the country. "It was the government of Bhutan who created the problem and it has to bear responsibility to solve it itself," said Ram Lal Subedi, a refugee activist.


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