new government of Bhutan, represented by the council of 10 elected cabinet
ministers, will make a last attempt to persuade the top ULFA leaders to
come for talks and to close down the main camp which serves as their central
headquarter in Bhutan. If this round of negotiations is not successful,
Bhutan will resort to military action to make the militants leave the kingdom.
This resolution of the National Assembly emerged from behind the closed doors of the Assembly hall on July 14 after four days of exhaustive debate that concluded in the first closed door session of the Assembly held during the reign of His Majesty the King.
Majesty the King intervened several times to share his views and to advise
the members as they examined in depth a wide range of nuances and implications
of the problem. The somber debate was seen as a last opportunity for the
Assembly to clarify, understand, and prepare for the full impact of the
last option left to the kingdom if the peaceful attempt by the government
did not work.
home minister, Lyonpo Thinley Gyamtsho, informed the Assembly that the
government had held four rounds of talks with the ULFA leaders including
one with the chairman, Arabinda Rajkhowa. During the 3rd round, in June
2001, the two sides had signed the agreed minutes which stipulated that
the ULFA must remove four of their nine camps within December, 2001, and
reduce their cadres in the remaining five camps.
The home minister reminded the Assembly that the three militant outfits shared the same separatist objectives that could never be fulfilled. "Therefore, it can only be concluded that the ULFA, NDFB and KLO militants intend to stay on Bhutanese territory for a long period of time." The home minister said that the government was mandated by the Assembly to hold one last round of talks with the ULFA leaders but expressed his doubts that the leaders would come for the talks. Even if they did come, it would be unlikely that they would close down their headquarter, leaving only the last option, which was military action.
Military action, said the home minister, would bring unimaginable suffering to the people. "In December, 2000, with no provocation, 15 innocent Bhutanese people were gunned down and 19 injured in Bhutanese buses on the Assam highway," he said. "That will be nothing compared with what might happen if we start military operation against the militants. There will be loss of property, schools and hospitals will be closed down, economic development will be impeded, and more than 66,464 people will be directly affected in 304 villages in 10 dzongkhags."
Thinley Gyamtsho informed the Assembly that the government had taken steps
to strengthen the security forces of Bhutan. Under the spiritual leadership
of His Holiness the Je Khenpo, the clergy was performing kurims for the
well being of the nation and people. The people across the country had
been briefed in public meetings, service facilities and installations were
protected, a number of actions had been taken after three rounds of security
coordination meetings in Gelephu, Samdrup Jongkhar and Gedu, the council
of ministers had approved a contingency budget up to Nu 2,000 million,
two refugee camps and 12 transit camps were being prepared, 150 risoops
had been appointed
the discussions, a number of chimis proposed immediate military action.
The people of Shaba, Wangchang and Doteng geogs and the business community
of Paro pointed out that, over the past few years, peaceful negotiations
had failed. They said that planned development should be suspended and
the budget diverted for security costs. The Punakha chimi said that the
best solution was peaceful negotiations but the chances of a peaceful solution
looked increasingly doubtful. The Haa and Chukha chimis said that the council
of ministers should hold talks with the militants as soon as possible.
large number of Assembly members proposed that the government, which had
been greatly strengthened to deal with the problem, should be allowed one
more attempt at peaceful negotiations as decided by the Assembly last year.
The Chukha dzongda said that, as proposed by the home minister the government
should be given one more chance for dialogue with the militants to make
them leave peacefully before resorting to military action.
A number of Assembly members said that, more than the militants, the government should try to work out a solution together with the government of India because the militants were Indian citizens and the source of the problem was basically in India.
Bumthang chimi said that the government must discuss ways to stop the militants
from entering the country across the international border, now and in the
future. The Punakha chimi said it was important that the government should
discuss the problem with the Indian government because the militants were
Indian nationals and all their supplies came from India.
Samdrup Jongkhar Dzongda: people have been punished for selling rations
to the militants
Thimphu chimi said that, before resorting to armed conflict, Bhutan and
India should sign a binding agreement on the conditions of an armed conflict
to protect innocent people. The council of ministers must negotiate an
acceptable agreement that would ensure the protection of Bhutanese vehicles
and people travelling through Assam and West Bengal.
royal advisory councillor from Zhemgang said that the 2,730 militants living
in the 19 camps in the jungles of Bhutan would require a large quantity
of food. It was important to find out where and how their rations were
being brought to their camps. Bhutan shared a long international boundary
with India and there were Indian security personnel patrolling all along
the border. "How come the Bhutanese travellers are being harassed at the
border while the militants are able to move in and out ?" he asked. "Therefore,
it is more important to talk with the Indian government than the militants."
The Samdrup Jongkhar dzongda informed the Assembly that Indian newspapers based in Delhi, Kolkata, and Guwahati were reporting that the Indian soldiers were ready to enter Bhutan to drive out the militants. This misinformation might have been given by officials of Assam and West Bengal, thereby creating a problem that should be solved as soon as possible.
health and education minister, Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup, said it was important
to carefully weigh the implications of an armed conflict. Even the most
powerful countries with the best military equipment faced many problems
and difficulties during a war. But it was necessary that every Bhutanese
citizen was ready to sacrifice his life to protect the security of the
nation. The minister said that he was ready to exchange the ministerial
scarf for a soldier's uniform if the command came from the Golden Throne.
"It is time to prove our dedication and patriotism for our beloved country,"
Many chimis pleaded with His Majesty the King not to travel to areas where the security risks were high.
Dagana chimi said the Assembly should resolve that His Majesty the King
should not be exposed to risks by visiting the security affected areas.
It was the role of the council of ministers and senior military officers
to represent His Majesty in the troubled areas. ". The King himself had
warned the people of the serious consequences of military action. While
it would not be a problem for the security troops to evict the militants,
there were far more implications to the national economy and the safety
of the people.
the issue raised by the Samdrup Jongkhar dzongda, His Majesty the King
said that the members of the National Assembly must understand clearly
the implications of the reports in newspapers in India about the Indian
army entering Bhutan to fight the militants.
Bhutan and India enjoyed very close relations at every level, between the governments, armies, and the people. "The government of India is fully aware that the National Assembly has been holding discussions every year on removing the militants from our country," His Majesty said. His Majesty the King said that it was very important for the Assembly members, especially the cabinet ministers and royal advisory councillors, to understand India's concerns over the militant issue. The ULFA wanted Assam, the largest north-eastern state with a population of 25 million, to be independent from India. The NDFB, a Bodo tribal group, also want an independent Bodoland. The KLO, which has emerged recently, was a tribal group spread across West Bengal, which also wants an independent state.
His Majesty said that these people were not refugees. They were trained and armed militants who had established camps, training centres, and arms depots in Bhutan. They had adequate funds. Although they had not killed or robbed Bhutanese people, they committed atrocities across the border in India and escaped into Bhutan when pursued by Indian security forces.
So far India had respected the international border because of the very close and friendly relations between the two countries. His Majesty himself enjoyed very good relations with the prime minister, the ministers, and senior army officers. Although Indian soldiers might have unknowingly crossed the border in hot pursuit, they had always respected the border between India and Bhutan.
His Majesty said that it was important for the Assembly members to understand, not only Bhutan's own security problems but the threat that the militants posed to the security of India from the government of India's perspective. His Majesty said that, during the remaining months of the year, it was the last opportunity to persuade the ULFA to remove its main camp that was used as its headquarter. If the ULFA leaders agree to remove their central headquarter it will then lead to the closing of their other camps. But if the talks failed the members of the Assembly must understand the consequences very clearly. A military clash would mean a clash with all three militant groups. Besides many other problems the civil servants, business people, and public who had to constantly travel through Assam and West Bengal would face great security risks.