Tuesday, August 21, 2007

India to work with Nepal on Bhutan refugees: Indian PM

Source: Kantipuronline.com

NEW DELHI, Aug 22 - Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has stated that India would be working jointly with the Nepal government and all other parties concerned to resolve the Bhutanese refugee issue.

Replying to a letter from parliamentarian Prof. Ram Gopal Yadav, who demanded the Indian government lead tripartite initiatives for returning Bhutanese refugees to their homeland, PM Singh stated that his government would be "jointly working with all the concerned sides, especially with the Nepal government."

On behalf of the Solidarity Group for Bhutanese Refugees, Yadav wrote to PM Singh two months ago to lead tripartite initiatives.

"The Indian government will work together with all the concerned parties, especially with the Nepal government, so as to improve the refugees' situation and to find such a solution that would be as per the respect and welfare of the refugees," the reply letter written two weeks ago said.

This is first time that the Indian PM has indicated in writing that the Indian government was serious about the matter. The Indian government started its homework on the issue after it was consistently pressured from national as well as international fronts to return to Bhutan over 100,000 Bhutanese refugees languishing in eastern Nepal.

Though PM Girija Prasad Koirala and Minister for Foreign Affairs Sahana Pradhan talked to Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee during the 14th SAARC summit, the Nepali side failed to convince Mukherjee. During the talks, the Indian side replied that they would "think over the refugee issue."

National Front for Democracy Bhutan and the Solidarity Group for Bhutanese Refugees led by Parliamentarian Dr Sunilam have been consistently urging political parties, ministers and parliamentarians in India to support their campaign.

Replying to the letter written by parliamentarian Yadav on June 16, Indian PM Singh stated that the Indian government was seeking a solution that would be acceptable to both sides-- Nepal and Bhutan. Singh replied to the letter on August 3.

"However, such a solution agreeable to the both countries is yet to be found," said PM Singh's letter, which was written in Hindi, adding, "Still, we have been working together with both sides and working hard."

The letter describes the refugees as "refugees staying at camps in Nepal who want to return to Bhutan" instead of terming them "Bhutanese refugees".

"You know, discussions have been taking place between India's neighboring countries Nepal and Bhutan over recent days," Singh said, adding, "We had been trying to solve the issues through talks between the two countries so that their bilateral relations would remain unharmed."

A meeting participated by Dr Sunilam and Anil Chaudhary, Chairman of the Indian National Social Action Forum, among others, decided that a five-member team led by senior social activists would visit Nepal on September 4.

Members of the team include renowned social activist Medha Patkar, senior social leader Surendra Mohan, senior journalist Kuldip Nayar, Dewaprat Biswas of Forward Block and Dr Sunilam.

The team will visit PM Koirala, Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradhan and the chiefs of the major political parties and ask them to initiate a dialogue.

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