The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
Click over the map to know the differences

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Assembly calls for proper investigation into JVT attack and action against perpe

10 July 2004 – 82 National Assembly:
The emotions were high, the views
strong, and the questions
demanding as the 82nd session of the National Assembly discussed the December 22 attack on the Bhutanese members of the joint verification team in eastern Nepal. With the bilateral process stalled after several significant steps had been taken to translate the talks into action, the future looked uncertain at best.
Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk: we share the peoples shock and anger

On July 7 and 8, more than 40 chimis took the Assembly floor with passion as they voiced the concerns of the people from the 20 dzongkhags. The unanimous view was that the vicious attack on innocent Bhutanese officials was unacceptable, the Nepalese government had to investigate the incident and punish the culprits, the royal government must explain its responses and the actions to the people, the bilateral process must be discontinued, and that Bhutan should not accept a single person from the camp.
The first step was to discontinue the bilateral process and ask the government of Nepal to clarify unanswered questions and to take measures that needed to be taken. Surely Nepal has laws against such crime, said the Tsirang chimi. So where is the legal action?
Many chimis said that Nepal must, at least, provide an explanation to a crime where innocent and senior officials were injured in the course of their duty which was to help solve a serious problem. The unwarranted attack was a humiliation of the Bhutanese officials and an insult to Bhutan.
The Punakha chimi described it as a case of sheer negligence where there was no security arrangement in a delicate situation. The Samdrup Jongkhar chimi added that the attack was obviously pre-planned since it was carried out at a time when the military operations against the militants were taking place.
Punakha chimi: sheer negligence
The government of Nepal must cooperate since it happened in Nepal, said the Samtse chimi who also expressed his doubt whether the problem would ever be solved because leaders like G.P. Koirala himself were involved in the uprising in Bhutan in the 1950s.
The Bumthang chimi said that Bhutan and Nepal were two close neighbours and it was, therefore, unfortunate to see the absence of security that led to the attack on the Bhutanese officials.
The Dagana chimi said that the government of Nepal should formally accept, in writing, the full responsibility for the safety and well being of the Bhutanese officials before re-starting the verification work.
The Trashigang chimi said that, as far back as 1991, when there were only a few thousand people His Majesty had asked the Nepalese prime minister not to encourage people claiming to be Bhutanese refugees to come to the camps in Nepal. Now the problem had grown to this dimension. The Nepalese government still seems to be supporting these people, he said.
Chimis from Bumthang, Sarpang and the BCCI said that the verification process should be stopped immediately. The people in the camps left Bhutan on their own free will and they have now attacked Bhutanese officials who were working to find a solution to the problem, said the Sarpang chimi. The people of Sarpang dzongkhag request the government to stop the verification immediately.
The Bumthang chimi pointed out that, as the people in the camps were linked with the Maoist rebels in Nepal, there was no benefit in conducting verification.
The Paro chimi said that the Bhutanese JVT members could be attacked again if they proceeded with the work without proper security arrangements.
Assembly members also asked to be briefed on the real cause of the incident and the course of action the government had taken after the attack. The public of Chang and Toep geogs of Thimphu would like to know why only the Bhutanese officials were assaulted and what course of action is being taken by the government, said the Thimphu chimi.
The Dagana chimi said that the two governments should explain the course of action that was being pursued and the success in bringing the criminals to justice.
Describing the incident as a betrayal of trust and faith, the Punakha chimi said that the people wanted to know the governments plans on the bilateral process. The Bhutanese people will never forget the incident, particularly because we were going through a period of serious security threat to our country, he said.
He said it was not acceptable that the incident was being deliberately underplayed. We would like to know when the culprits will be brought to justice and what the government is planning to do about the bilateral process, he said.
The Chukha chimi said no one would believe that the government of Nepal had been unable to find the people who assaulted and injured Bhutanese officials. The criminals must be brought to justice immediately.
The chimis of Haa, Sarpang, Mongar, Bumthang, Lhuentse, Trongsa and Gasa said that, just as the National Assembly had consistently maintained, the people in the camps in Nepal should not be allowed to return.
Our government has tried to show magnanimity and compassion by seeking a durable solution to the problem, said the Trongsa chimi. The assault and abuse of the Bhutanese officials have surpassed all boundaries of civil behaviour and decency and was an insult to our country. The ngolops in the camps in Nepal must never be allowed to return.
The Chukha chimi said it was obvious that the unprovoked act of violence against the Bhutanese officials was premeditated. The public of Chapcha and Gelling geogs express their indignation over the humiliation and violence inflicted on our officials and request the government to stop the bilateral process.
How can we allow people linked with the Maoists to come into our country? said the Paro chimi. Having personally experienced insufferable agony during the ngolop movement in the 1990s when they killed and terrorised our people, I cannot stand the thought of even one of them coming back, said the Haa chimi.
As a former member of the JVT who had worked in the verification in the Khudunabari camp, the Samtse Dzongda said that the condition in the Nepal camps was better than in the rural parts of the region. They received rations without having to work, they had access to good medical facilities, education centres up to high school, and other vocational facilities.
He had seen seven political parties and 14 political organizations in the camps in Nepal. The main objective of the people in the camps was to form their own government if they were ever allowed into Bhutan, he said. One of their main goals was to change the Citizenship Act and other laws of Bhutan.
Responding to the chimis the foreign minister, Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk, said that he shared the shock and anger over the brutal and unprovoked attack on the Bhutanese members of the JVT. We fully understand the indignation of the Bhutanese people and commend our officials for their dedication and courage in discharging their duties despite the risks, he said.
The minister, who took the floor on two consecutive days to answer queries, provided a background of the entire problem and reported, in detail, all the actions taken by the government in the aftermath of the violent incident in Nepal.
He traced the origins of the camps to January, 1991, when the first group of people claiming to be refugees were allowed to enter Nepal. Bhutans attempts to prevent the establishment of camps and facilities that might attract the poor masses in the region were ignored. It was only in July, 1993, that proper screening procedures for people claiming to be Bhutanese refugees were introduced. Until then the screening of such people were given to the people in the camps who were themselves claiming to be refugees. Once proper screening procedures were introduced there was a dramatic drop in the entry of people into the camps. He then explained the bilateral process as the two governments met in July, 1993, and established the ministerial joint committee (MJC) that had, over the years, achieved several significant steps towards a durable solution to the problem.
The MJC had categorised the people and harmonised the positions of the two governments on each category, established the joint verification team (JVT), and agreed that the solution would be found within the framework of the laws in the two countries. The JVT started work at Khudunabari camp in March, 2001, and the results of its work was confirmed during the 15th MJC held in Thimphu in October, 2003. Among several significant decisions taken by the MJC, it was agreed that the repatriation of those found eligible would begin in February, 2004.
Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk said that the attack on the Bhutanese members of the JVT took place when the JVT returned to Nepal for the final assignments mandated by the MJC. At Khudunabari camp, on December 22, the Bhutanese officials, having already expressed their security concerns in writing to their Nepalese counterparts, began their briefing. About half an hour into the briefing they were attacked by the people in the make-shift hut, joined by most of the 12,000 people outside who also stormed in.
One Bhutanese official collapsed on the floor after he was struck on the head. The crowd punched and stoned the Bhutanese officials and beat them with bamboo sticks. After three officials were injured and the Bhutanese vehicles damaged, they managed to escape to the Lifeline Hospital in Damak town. In the early hours of December 23 the Bhutanese officials left Damak on the instructions of the royal government which had arranged an Indian security escort from the Nepal border to Phuentsholing.
What happened on December 22 was a failure of the Nepalese government to honour its responsibility towards the safety and security of the Bhutanese officials, said the foreign minister. But we are proud of the courage, dedication, and dignity with which our officials conducted themselves and appreciate the understanding with which their family members endured the constant worry over their safety.
Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuck submitted to the Assembly a detailed report of the actions taken by the government after the incident.
The government was, at that time, pre-occupied with the military operations. On being informed of the attack the foreign ministry issued a press release and the foreign minister called his counterpart on the same day to express his regret over the incident and to explain the withdrawal of the Bhutanese officials. The government had raised the issue with the Nepalese leaders during the 12th SAARC summit in January and the two foreign ministers met again at the BIMST-EC meeting in Thailand in February.
The foreign minister said that he had conveyed to his Nepalese counterpart that the December 22 incident was very serious as the Bhutanese members of the JVT could have been killed. The Bhutanese people were shocked and angered by the incident and could not understand the violent behaviour of the people in the camp when the process had reached the last stage and could only be of benefit to them. He expressed his conviction that the incident was pre-planned and premeditated and not provoked as it had been alleged by groups in Nepal with vested interests. The terms and conditions read out at the camp were not new because copies had been handed over to them as far back as June.
Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk said that he had expressed his surprise and regret that an enquiry, that should have been a normal step, had not been initiated. He requested the Nepalese government to conduct a thorough enquiry into the incident, to punish the perpetrators, and to put in place safety and security measures before resuming work.
The last time our officials had been lucky to escape with their lives but the same cannot be taken for granted in the future, he said. Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk said that the Nepalese foreign minister had expressed his regret over the incident and also his doubts whether an investigation would be of any use. While there was no communication from Nepal for the next two months the Nepalese media had described the incident as a minor scuffle and the international community raised concerns about the stalled bilateral process.
We have always maintained that we are committed to the bilateral process and the agreements reached during the 15th MJC meeting are a clear confirmation of our seriousness in seeking a lasting solution to the problem, he said. If our officials had not been attacked the repatriation would have started in February. We said that, if the international community was interested in helping the resumption of the talks, they should ask Nepal to act on our request to investigate the incident, to take action against the perpetrators, and put in place adequate security measures.
The Nepalese foreign minister had called on April 5 to propose a ministerial meeting preceded by a meeting of senior officials. Bhutans foreign minister responded on April 12.
I made it clear that, given the seriousness of the incident and the strong public concern in Bhutan I would not be in a position to propose a resumption of the process without the Nepalese government investigating the incident, initiating legal action against the perpetrators, and putting in place adequate security measures, the minister informed the Assembly.
Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk said that the Bhutanese embassy in New Delhi had received on May 12 the Report of investigation of the incident at Khudunabari camp on December 22, 2003, forwarded by the Nepalese foreign minister. But the report contained a number of factual inaccuracies and fell far short of Bhutans requests. The report states that no individuals could be identified as being responsible for the incident, it alleges that the attack was provoked by the Bhutanese officials, and also calls on the royal government to further relax the terms and conditions, said Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk. It seems to be the conclusion of the investigation report that beating up the Bhutanese officials should lead to further relaxation of Bhutans terms and conditions under its citizenship laws.
Bhutanese members of the JVT, meanwhile, had expressed their dismay at the callous attitude of the Nepalese government. Apart from the fact that the terms and conditions had long been known to the camp people who had not complained about them in the past, there had been many tactics to intimidate the Bhutanese officials. They were harassed at the market, they were threatened at night, even with decapitation, and there had been aggressive strikes in front of the office of the Bhutanese verification team.
The foreign minister said that, despite the severe shortcomings and inaccuracies in the report, the royal government had indicated to the Nepalese government that, in the interest of moving the bilateral process forward, the report could be considered positively if Nepal deleted the unacceptable reference to the relaxation of the terms and conditions pertaining to the citizenship laws. The two governments had not only respected each others terms and conditions in the past, the investigation was meant to identify and take action against the perpetrators so the issue was out of context. It also sent the negative message that the attack and beating of Bhutanese officials would lead to further relaxation of the terms and conditions of the Citizenship Acts.
Nepals foreign minister had said that he understood Bhutans view but would need to consult his government. Meanwhile the government changed and he said that the response would have to be given by the new government. The foreign minister said that the government was still waiting for a reply from Nepal and was now seriously concerned about the political and security situation in Nepal.
Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk informed the Assembly that there were other developments that might have serious implications on Bhutans security. A Bhutan Gorkha Liberation Front and a Bhutan Communist Party had been formed, the latter with links to the Maoists in Nepal. The Maoists were recruiting people from the camps and some of them had even taken part in attacks in Nepal. More than 2,000 of them had moved into India and could be close to the Indo-Bhutan border. These people posed a serious threat to Bhutans security.
On our part the royal government will abide by all the agreements we have reached with Nepal to find a lasting and durable solution to the issue of the people in the camps, said Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk. This includes our commitment to take back all those people in the camps who have been found to be genuine Bhutanese refugees. In carrying out the discussions and agreements with Nepal we will, as in the past, continue to be guided by our national laws, the Citizenship Acts, and the resolutions of the National Assembly.
Many chimis expressed their views and concerns after the foreign ministers report. They submitted that the Nepalese governments first report was completely unacceptable. It was not possible that the Nepalese government could not identify and take legal action against the criminals in Khudunabari camp.
On the related developments, including the movement of people outside the camps, several chimis said that it was time for Bhutan to be aware of the implications and take necessary measures to ensure that Bhutan does not face Maoist problems as in Nepal.
The Speaker of the National Assembly, Dasho Ugen Dorje, noted that the Assembly had witnessed an outpouring of anger and indignation from the chimis over the assault on the Bhutanese members of the joint verification team and it was clearly a priority issue for the Assembly. The foreign minister had submitted a detailed and clear explanation of the actions taken by the government.
The National Assembly of Bhutan recorded its appreciation and commendation to the ministerial joint committee and the Bhutanese JVT members for their dedication in discharging their work and their loyalty to their nation.
While the relations between Bhutan and Nepal had greatly improved and the bilateral process had made significant achievements in 15 rounds of talks since 1993, the process had stalled at a critical stage, just before repatriation could take place. The next step was not clear because of the instability of the Nepalese government and its preoccupation with the Maoist problem.
Under the circumstances it was vital that the two governments thoroughly discuss the issue and make sure that the necessary measures were taken to prevent such an incident from ever occurring again. This must be finalised before the bilateral process resumed.
The Speaker also noted that the government should continue to strictly adhere to the resolutions of the National Assembly, the Citizenship Acts of Bhutan, and the laws of the land.

No comments:

Post a Comment