From correspondents in Kathmandu, Nepal, 03:01 PM IST
A group of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, who have been trying to go back to their homeland from where they were evicted because of their Nepali origin nearly two decades ago, says it has learnt about 'an astonishing exchange of parleys' between India and Bhutan regarding the protracted refugee problem.
The National Front for Democracy in Bhutan, an umbrella of several Bhutanese political parties in exile, says the Bhutan government made a 'desperate' proposal to India to solve the refugee impasse that has tarnished Bhutan's image in the eyes of the international community. It has also cast doubts over King Jigme Wangchuk's abdication in favour of his son in an avowed bid to promote democracy and usher in the first election next year.
The exiled Bhutanese group is citing an article written by academic Mahendra P. Lama of the School of International Studies at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) that was published along with other papers last month.
'The Politics, Human Rights and Implications of Protracted Refugee Situations', published by Oxford University, United Nations University, Tokyo and Centre for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, last month carries a paper by Lama where he says he learnt about an offer made by Bhutan to India during discussions with senior Indian officials.
According to Lama, Bhutan offered to give up one of its southern districts, where the population includes people mostly of Nepali origin, and which was subjected to a massive eviction drive that forced people to flee to India and Nepal.
Thimphu offered to hand over the district to India, its biggest donor, trade partner and foreign affairs adviser, for re-settlement of the refugees and other Nepali speaking Bhutanese citizens, Lama's article says.
Had India accepted the proposal, it would have badly affected the already much-frayed India-Nepal relations with Nepal regarding India as having annexed the once independent Sikkim.
While lauding India for turning down the proposal, the refugee group has begun a campaign against 'the deliberate anti-national attempt of (the) despotic regime' of Bhutan to 'disintegrate the country in order to continue holding on to power'.
Issuing a statement in Nepal, NFD-Bhutan said it would launch a mass awareness campaign in Bhutan, adopting the model of the non-violent protests organised by Nepal's opposition parties last year that succeeded in toppling King Gyanendra's government, though it was backed by the army.
The organisation warned that the campaign could include general strikes and taking the issue to international forums to highlight the 'anti-national policies' of the Bhutan government.
It also said it would stage a second long march to Bhutan soon and was garnering support from the liberal parties in India. Many Bhutanese refugee leaders are in Indian cities and are expected to give a boost to the march back home.
The Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, who number over 106,000, have been in a stage of ferment since the US government said it was willing to resettle in American cities and towns as many Bhutanese refugees as favoured third-country resettlement.
The offer came after the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which administers refugee camps in eastern Nepal, said the donors maintaining the camps were growing weary of an impasse that showed no sign of resolution and funding was increasingly slashed.
The resettlement offer has divided the refugees, part of whom want to accept it and part who favour returning home.
The pro-repatriation group is reported to be trying to intimidate those who want to accept the US offer, leading to growing tension and violence in the camps.