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Bilateral talks on refugees postponed till December

The fate of 107,000 Bhutanese refugees living in seven camps in eastern Nepal will be decided next month in delayed bilateral talks between Nepal and Bhutan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) officials said on Monday.
The talks, which were originally scheduled for Tuesday in the Bhutanese capital, Thimpu, have been put back by over a month due to the ongoing peace process in Nepal, according to MoFA.

The delay in the talks is because the Maoist rebels want to take part in the bilateral talks after they join the new interim government in December, ministry officials said.

A landmark agreement was made on 8 November between the rebels and the government of seven national parties to end the decade-long armed conflict, which resulted in the death of over 14,000 people.

“The postponement of the bilateral talks on the Bhutanese refugees is for positive reasons, ie to ensure that they take place properly and conclusively,” said MoFA spokesman Yadav Khanal.

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

To date, 15 rounds of talks have failed to resolve the refugee crisis, according to the National Front for Democracy in Bhutan (NFD-Bhutan), a united front for three main Bhutanese dissident parties including Druk National Congress, Bhutan Gorkha National Liberation Front and the Bhutan People’s Party.

Bhutanese refugee leaders remain concerned that the forthcoming talks may also end without any conclusion and are asking for India’s participation to help the process.

“India’s role is key in the talks with Nepal and Bhutan to resolve the refugee crisis,” said Thinley Penjore, President of Druk National Congress (DNC).

“India can no longer afford to avoid the issue and it should help to resolve the refugee question by [getting] involving in tripartite talks,” Balaram Poudel, President of Bhutan People’s Party (BPP), said. He added that some Indian parliamentarians had already shown interest by appealing to Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh for India’s involvement.

Bhutanese leaders are extremely keen for these fresh talks to reach a positive conclusion and have warned of the consequences if they do not. “If Bhutan government fails to repatriate all the refugees, then we cannot bear responsibility for any consequences,” explained Penjore, cautioning that the frustration among the refugees, especially among the youth, was widespread and could lead in the end to violence if they were not repatriated.

Most of the refugees want to be repatriated with resettlement in a foreign country seen as a last resort, NFD-Bhutan said.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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