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Statement by the Foreign Ministry of Bhutan on the commencement of military operations to flush out from its soil three terrorist groups active in India's Northeast, December 15, 2003

The Royal Bhutan Army began operations on December 15, 2003, to flush out from its soil terrorists of three groups active in India's Northeast. The full text of the statement released by the Foreign Ministry of Bhutan is as follows:

1. Many are aware that three armed separatist groups from India, namely the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), and Kamtapur Liberation Organization (KLO) have clandestinely entered and established camps in the dense forests of southern Bhutan.

 2. The three separatist groups are scattered across southern Bhutan bordering Arunachal Pradesh in the east to Sikkim in the west, thereby covering the entire stretch of Bhutan’s southern boundary with India. Bhutan is particularly sensitive to India’s security concerns in the region. The separatists use their camps in the dense forest to train their cadres, store arms and ammunition, and to launch surprise attacks inside India. The ULFA has 13 camps, the NDFB 12 camps, and the KLO 5 camps.

 3. Development and economic activities in Bhutan have been seriously affected by the presence of the militants. Work at large industries such as the Dungsum Cement Project have been suspended. Educational institutions in vulnerable areas had to be closed down. Trade, agriculture production and other commercial activities in several districts of the country have been disrupted.

 4. Innocent people in Assam, West Bengal, as well as in Bhutan have been victims of threats, coercion and extortion. Unprovoked attacks by the militants against Bhutanese nationals inside the country, as well as those traveling through Assam, have resulted in tragic loss of innocent lives. It has become unsafe for Bhutanese to travel and transport goods through the traditional and more convenient routes in India.

 5. The presence of the militants, who entered Bhutan clandestinely 12 years ago and established their camps initially without our knowledge has become a direct threat to Bhutan’s sovereignty and national security. Their long-term presence has undermined the peace, stability and socio-economic development enjoyed by the Bhutanese people, and threatens the very sovereignty of the country. Of particular concern are the misperceptions surrounding their presence and the implications on the excellent bilateral relations with India which is of the highest importance of the royal government and the Bhutanese people.

 6. Given the magnitude of the security threat posed by the armed militants, the issue has been regularly discussed in the National Assembly of Bhutan. It has also been one of the central issues raised in all major public fora, including the regular meeting of the local bodies.

 7. Despite the seriousness of the threats and the immediate need to rid the country of their presence Bhutan, as a Buddhist and a peace loving nation, committed itself to find a peaceful solution and pursued a series of dialogue with the separatist groups since 1998. Every effort was made by the royal government to bring about their peaceful departure from the country. In this regard, the fraternal and good neighbourly relations between the Bhutanese people and the people of Assam have always been the primary concern and has, in fact, been a major factor in the royal government’s decisions to ensure that every effort is made to resolve the problem peacefully.

 8. It was with much regret and frustration that the royal government was unable to report any successful outcome of the talks to the National Assembly. Finally, during the 81st session of the Assembly, held from June, 28, to August 18, 2003, the royal government was mandated to make one last attempt at persuading the militants to leave the country. The resolution was clear in that, should the talks fail, then as a last resort, the Royal Bhutan Army would have to be given the responsibility of removing the militants from Bhutan.

 9. Based on the above the home minister, who is also the prime minister of Bhutan, invited the leaders of the three separatists groups to Thimphu for talks. Despite Bhutan’s request that the top leadership attend the talks, the two militant groups, namely the ULFA and NDFB, sent mid-level representatives, while no response was received from the KLO. Nevertheless, because of the sincere effort on the part of the royal government to find a peaceful solution, the home minister met separately with the ULFA in October 2003, and the NDFB in November 2003, and engaged in lengthy, substantive discussions. During the talks, the militants were told, with great restraint and patience, that the royal government cannot tolerate their presence any longer. They were reminded that their entry into Bhutan was no different from a foreign invading army, and their conduct showed no regard for our laws. It was made very clear to them that they were not refugees seeking humanitarian protection, and that their refusal to leave would result in a senseless and fratricidal conflict. They were also told that the senselessness of a confrontation lay in the fact that the Bhutan has nothing to do with their hopes and aspirations. Every life lost in the foreign soil of Bhutan for them would be a waste. They were advised to engage in serious reflection and consider the wisdom of continuing the armed struggle. They were also advised that the moment had arrived when they should try to find a solution within the constitutional framework of the republic of India.

 10. Conducting dialogue with the militants has never been easy, but as a peace-loving nation, Bhutan has been tolerant and patient in seeking a peaceful resolution of the problem. After six years of consistent and strenuous efforts to find a peaceful solution, the process of peaceful dialogue has been fully exhausted, and the royal government was left with no option but to give the royal Bhutan army the responsibility of removing the militants from Bhutan.

 11. It is ironic that Bhutan’s success with environmental conservation, in particular, conservation of the dense sub-tropical forests along the southern border, has rendered the country a favoured hiding place for the separatist elements from India. The predicament for Bhutan is that of a country feeling the life threatening pains of a problem that lies everywhere. In this regard, the National Assembly of Bhutan has noted with appreciation that multi-pronged efforts made by the government of India to resolve the problem. These include administrative, economic, political and military initiatives.

 12. Under the circumstances, Bhutan seeks the continued understanding and support of the government of India, particularly the bordering states of Assam and West Bengal. It is our hope that the compulsion of flushing out the militants from Bhutan will promote peace, stability and economic development in our region and further strengthen the age-old friendship and cooperation among our people and governments.

 13. Bhutan also seeks understanding and support from many other development partners and friends among the international community.

Source: Kuensel





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