Assembly discusses status of bilateral talks with Nepal
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY 27 December, 2006 - Members of the National Assembly yesterday asked the government to strictly enforce the Citizenship Act after the foreign minister, Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk, briefed the assembly on the status of the Bhutan - Nepal bilateral talks on the problem of the people in the camps in eastern Nepal.
The Citizenship Act should not be diluted: Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk
After several chimis pointed out that the people in the camps were a threat to the security of Bhutan despite repeated efforts to solve the problems mutually the Speaker, Dasho Ugen Dorje, asked the foreign minister to brief the house on the progress of the talks.
Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk informed the Assembly that the two governments had been meeting and maintaining contact regularly at the ministerial level to discuss the issue since the stalemate in the talks after Bhutanese officials were violently assaulted on December 22, 2003, in Nepal.
He said that he had met the Nepalese counterpart in September 2005 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York to break the stalemate.
“Bhutan offered to take back those people in category 1 (C1) and category 4 (C4) from Khudanabari camp who choose to return to Bhutan,” said Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk.
The positions of the two governments on the people in the camps had been harmonised during the 14th meeting of the Nepal-Bhutan Ministerial Joint Committee (MJC) in Kathmandu in 2003. The MJC had categorised people found to be forcefully evicted from Bhutan under C1 and Bhutanese who have committed criminal acts under C4 category.
Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk said that in November 2005, on the sidelines of the 13th SAARC Summit in Dhaka, Bhutan had proposed for the Joint Verification Team (JVT) members of the two countries to visit the camps to explain the terms and procedures to the people and to collect applications of those opting to return.
“To have a clear understanding, I proposed incorporation of clauses in a joint communiquè reaffirming the agreements reached in the joint ministerial committee on the terms and procedures, and on the visit of members of the JVT to the camp,” said the foreign minister. “The foreign minister of Nepal would not agree to the incorporation of such clauses in a joint communiquè or in any other written form. In subsequent written and telephonic contacts, the foreign minister of Nepal maintained this position and we could not reactivate the bilateral process.”
The foreign minister also informed the Assembly that the political changes in Nepal had also been an impediment to the smooth process of the bilateral talks.
In September 2006, Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk met the present deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Nepal on three occasions in Kuala Lumpur, Dhaka, and in New York.
Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk informed the Assembly that in these meetings, the government of Nepal had introduced a new element stating that the problem was between Bhutan and the camp people and not between Nepal and Bhutan, and that Bhutan should talk directly to the people in the camps.
“The government of Nepal has even stated in the press that it would not abide by the past agreements reached between the two governments,” he said, adding that their latest position was that all the people in the camps have to be repatriated.
The Nepalese government also stated that they could only facilitate to resolve the problem, that they had only given asylum to the people on humanitarian grounds, and that the prime onus to resolve the stalemate was with Bhutan.
“The government of Nepal wants to make a fresh start, doing away with past agreements,” said Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk.
The minister said that Bhutan could not accept the Nepalese government’s new position. “The two governments had agreed from the beginning of the talks in 1993 that they were in the best position to find a solution to the problem through bilateral process,” he said. “The government of Bhutan and past successive government of Nepal had always reiterated their commitment to the bilateral process.”
Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk said that it was not practical for the government to talk to the people in the camps because most of them were not Bhutanese.
“The camps have been infiltrated by Maoist elements and several radical parties like the Bhutan Communist Party, Bhutan Gorkha National Liberation Front and the Bhutan Revolutionary Students Union have been formed with the declared objective of carrying out armed struggle to overthrow the government of Bhutan,” said the minister.
He added that it was the Nepalese government that established the camps and sought UNHCR assistance in 1991 when there were only 304 people claiming to be Bhutanese refugees. “Until mid 1993 all ethnic Nepalese claiming to be Bhutanese refugees were admitted into the camps without proper screening,” said the foreign minister.
The minister said that the involvement of the Nepalese government in the process was necessary as there was clear agreement on Category 2 (C2) where it says that people under C2 who do not wish to return to Bhutan would be given the option to apply for Nepalese citizenship. “Nepal has both moral and legal responsibility over the problem,” he said.
The new proposal, Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk said, was a step backward and could derail the bilateral process and would mean going back on all agreements reached between the two governments and undoing all that has been achieved in the past 13 years.
“Last October, a letter from the deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Nepal reiterated their government’s stand,” said Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk. “But I made it clear that the issue must be resolved through a bilateral process and in accordance with the agreements reached between the two governments.”
Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk also informed the Assembly that the two governments had agreed to meet in Thimphu from November 20 to 23 this year, but the talks had to be postponed on the request of the Nepalese government.
The minister also expressed his concern on the infiltration into the camps by the Maoist elements and the formation of radical parties in Nepal. “A large number of people in the camps are supporting and joining the Maoist movement in Nepal. They are listed as both refugees and Maoist members,” he said. “Allowing the highly politicised camp people into Bhutan would mean importing ready made radical political parties and terrorists to duplicate the violence, terror, and instability the Maoists have unleashed in Nepal.”
The minister also expressed concern on the growing nexus between the militant elements in the camps and the Indian Maoists and Naxalities and insurgent groups who where flushed out of Bhutan in 2003.
“With the culmination of political reforms initiated by His Majesty the fourth King, it is critical for Bhutan at this delicate juncture to maintain its peace and stability to ensure a smooth new political system,” said Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk.
He said that it was wise for the Bhutanese government and people to uphold and enforce the Citizenship Act. “I agree with the chimis that the Citizenship Act of Bhutan should not be diluted as it is the only protection for the security and sovereignty of Bhutan.”
Alarmed and expressing their apprehension, several chimis said that the problems of the people in the camps should be solved based on the agreements and the resolutions of the past Assembly sessions.
The Samtse chimi said that even if people falling under C1 are ever repatriated, they should be punished according to the Citizenship Act of Bhutan. “The decision for awarding citizenship should be left with His Majesty the King,” he said.
The Bumthang chimi said that Bhutan had no business with the people in the camps. “We will follow the agreements signed between the two governments and the National Assembly resolutions,” he said.
Others submitted that the people should not be allowed to return at all.
The Punakha chimi said that there were rumors that these people would be allowed to return to Bhutan after 2008. “There is widespread talks that the people in the camps would be returning as if the Citizenship Act has been amended,” he said. “The government should strictly enforce the Citizenship Act of Bhutan.”
The foreign minister reassured the members that the talks would be carried out based on the agreements signed between the two countries, the Citizenship Act of Bhutan, Immigration laws, and the resolutions passed by the National Assembly of Bhutan.
“If the people are repatriated, they would have to deal with the Citizenship Act,” he said. “The two governments had agreed to respect each other’s laws.”
The National Assembly resolved that the issue be resolved bilaterally based on the agreements signed between the two governments, the Citizenship Act of Bhutan, and the resolutions of the National Assembly of Bhutan.
By Ugyen Penjore