December 15, 2003
The prime minister, Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley, told the Bhutanese media this afternoon that the "valiant troops of the RBA" had begun to expel the Indian militants from their camps that were spread across the country's southern region, from Diafam in the east to Samtse in the west. Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley said that, by mid-day, the troops were able to overpower the central command headquarters of the ULFA, located at Phukaptong in Samdrup Jongkhar. This was the main camp of the ULFA which served as their central headquarters. "It is common knowledge for the citizens of Bhutan and, indeed, the people of Assam and West Bengal, that the royal government has exercised extreme patience and tolerance for a peaceful solution," he said. "It is, therefore, regrettable that the three groups refused to leave peacefully."
"The people of Assam and West Bengal, who had been our close friends, are not our enemy," he added. "The relations between the people of Assam, West Bengal and Bhutan should not be hampered by this event." The prime minister appealed to the people not to indulge in "unprincipled news mongering" and rumours because "it could be harmful". This afternoon the Indian foreign minister, Mr. Yashwant Sinha, told the Indian parliament that the government of India strongly supported the military operations launched by the royal government of Bhutan against the Indian insurgent groups. He said the prime minister of India had conveyed to His Majesty the King that the government and the people of India stood firmly and solidly behind Bhutan at this critical juncture and would provide all necessary support, as requested, until the task was completed.
The Indian army was also taking necessary measures to intercept movement of militants from Bhutan into India, he said. He reminded the members of parliament that Bhutan had always assured the government of India that it would not allow its territory to be used for activities inimical to India's interest and added that the launch of military operations against Indian insurgent groups in Bhutan had struck a blow against terrorism and terrorist activities in the region.
The activity would foster peace, stability and security in the region and further cement the strong friendship and cooperation between India and Bhutan, he said.
days after the launch of operations, Bhutan's security forces have taken
over the camps established in the country by the ULFA, NDFB, and KLO militants.
Meanwhile the Bhutanese troops continue their efforts to flush out the
Indian militants from the dense forests in the southern districts. While
both sides are reported to have suffered casualties, the total number of
deaths and injuries are not yet known. The three separatist groups, which
had clandestinely crossed into Bhutan about 12 years ago, had established
30 camps across the southern belt of the country, between Daifam in the
east to Samtse in the west.
reports said that militants were still hiding in Bhutan, unable to flee
into India because of the heavy presence of Indian troops along the border.
India's political and military leaders had announced early in the week
that they had strengthened troops along the border to "intercept" fleeing
In Thimphu, the country's capital, the temperature does not rise above 10 degrees and during winter the mercury drops to minus 10 degrees. Up in northern Bhutan, the temperature sometimes drops to minus 20 degrees. "Who would like to fight in that kind of terrain, which is snow covered almost the entire year?" the Director of Foreign Affairs Yashey Dorji asked. "Security is the tightest ever. Everyone, including the visiting mediapersons, are advised not to venture into the markets unless it is absolutely necessary," a policeman posted at the gate in Samdrup Jongkhar on the Indo-Bhutan border said.
Royal Bhutan Army's operation to flush out the three Indian insurgent groups
from Bhutan continues, the militants have been dislodged from all 30 camps
and the camps burned and razed to the ground, according to a spokesman
for the RBA.
large arsenal of weapons and sophisticated communication equipment was
recovered. A senior RBA officer said that more than 500 AK 47/56 assault
rifles and 328 other assorted weapons including rocket launchers and mortars,
along with more than 100,000 rounds of ammunition, were found or confiscated.
An anti-aircraft gun was also found at the site of the GHQ of the ULFA.
the women and children who had been living in the camps - wives and children
of senior leaders and cadres of the three insurgent groups - were handed
over by the Bhutanese civil authorities to their counterparts from Assam
and West Bengal. Earlier this week three injured militants, who were initially
treated by the RBA in the military hospital at Deothang, had been evacuated
by helicopter for further treatment.
The RBA confirmed that the ULFA had 14 camps: 10 in Samdrup Jongkhar district, three in Sarpang district, and one in lower Zhemgang. The NDFB had 11 camps: four in Sarpang and seven in Samdrup Jongkhar. The KLO had one camp in Samdrup Jongkhar, one in Kalikhola dungkhag, and three in Samtse district.
RBA spokesman said that the efforts to flush out the militants from Bhutanese
soil were progressing as expected.
The prime minister described the people of Assam and West Bengal as the age-old fraternal brothers and sisters of the Bhutanese people with whom they had always shared a mutually beneficial socio-economic relationship and a highly cherished fraternity. The prime minister said His Majesty the King desired that the people on both sides of the border could soon return to their daily lives and strive for development and economic progress in a peaceful and stable environment.
The last of the 30 camps that were established on Bhutanese soil by the three separatist groups from India was burnt down and the operation to flush out the militants who were dislodged from these camps was making good progress, according to Royal Bhutan Army sources. In addition to the 30 camps, 35 observation posts of the militants were destroyed.
"The Goburkonda camp, located on the Bhutanese side of the Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, was subjected to mortar fire during the operations on December 15 when the operations were carried out against all the camps between Daifam and Samtse," said a senior officer at RBA headquarters. "We had left the physical attack on this ULFA camp for a later date because of a shortage of troops. Now there is not a single camp of the militants inside Bhutanese territory and we are flushing out the remaining militants who escaped from the camps and are hiding in the rugged jungle terrain in the border areas."
The RBA spokesman told the national newspaper "Kuensel" that, among other items, they had recovered three television sets, a generator, and 20 metric tonnes of rice from the Goburkonda camp. He also said that the flushing out operations have resulted in the capture of 24 militants during the past week. While the Royal Bhutan Army would not give any figures of the casualties suffered by both sides the spokesman said that every effort had been made to keep casualties as low as possible.
"Our objective was to remove the presence of the militants and their camps from our soil and we have tried our best to do that with the minimum loss of lives on both sides," he added. "After all, as Indian nationals from Assam and West Bengal, the militants and their kith and kin are our immediate neighbours with whom the Bhutanese people have always enjoyed close fraternal bonds."
The prime minister, Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley, said that the Bhutanese people were most relieved that the situation in most of the security affected areas had been restored to normalcy and paid tribute to the Bhutanese security troops for carrying out the sacred responsibility entrusted to them, as a last resort, with complete dedication. "His Majesty the King has always maintained that the role of the army is not to make war but to keep peace," he said. "Our troops have shown that, under the leadership of His Majesty, they are prepared to defend the security and territorial integrity of the nation with their lives. Today, the Bhutanese people have an overwhelming sense of pride and appreciation for our courageous troops."
The prime minister also expressed the deep appreciation of the government and people of Bhutan for the full support and cooperation extended by India. "All sections of the population of India have been very supportive and I am confident that the excellent relations between the two countries will continue to grow and strengthen."
Meanwhile His Majesty the King returned to Thimphu last Sunday while His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, Dasho Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, is visiting the officers and soldiers of the Royal Bhutan Army in the security affected areas.