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82nd National Assembly discussed about Bhutan's security (July 2004)
Bhutan's national security
July 2004

National security remained high on the agenda of the National Assembly - an issue of deep concern to all Bhutanese people - as members once again urged the government to maintain a high alert along the southern border, particularly in the aftermath of the military operations last December.

The Paro chimi reminded the Assembly members of the concerns and problems that the people had gone through for six years as the government tried to negotiate a peaceful solution to the militant problem. The people remembered that the militants had crossed the porous border, established camps, and refused to leave. They would never forget the impact this had had on their lives. "After all that our country went through, the government must do everything possible to strengthen border security," she said. "We cannot relax even for a moment because a weak border can mean years of trouble as we have already seen. The Indo-Bhutan border security also needs to be strengthened with regular patrolling."

"I sincerely hope that their top leadership will come for the next round of talks as assured by their representatives," said Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley. He added that the leaders of the Bodo group, the NDFB, were also expected to meet with the government. "Over the past six years Bhutan has shown extreme tolerance and patience," the prime minister said. "We have done this because of the good relations between the people of Assam and Bhutan. If it comes to military action, we appeal to the people of Assam to understand that all possible means for a peaceful solution had been exhausted."

National security still endangered

Dozin Batoo Tshering of the Royal Bhutan Army assured the Assembly members that the RBA was very much aware of the importance of maintaining vigil along the border at all times. His Majesty the King had personally commanded the Royal Bhutan Army to conduct routine patrolling in the security risk areas. "The security forces will continue to do everything possible to strengthen security along the border," he said.

The prime minister, Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley, said that the government fully shared and understood the anxieties of the people and appreciated their continued concerns over national security. The government agreed that Bhutan could not afford to be complacent on the issue. He said that Bhutan had gone through a difficult period when its security and sovereignty was threatened. It was only because of the personal sacrifices and the profoundly wise leadership of His Majesty the King that the nation had been safeguarded with no risk to the people. The prime minister said that, with the guidance of His Majesty, the government was taking every step possible to strengthen security measures along the border.

Military camps had been established across the length of the southern border with 175 officers and 5,000 troops deployed for security duty between Sibsoo and Daifam. The RBA and RBP were maintaining surveillance of high-risk areas to ensure the security of the people. The district officials and police officers in the southern dzongkhags were in continuous touch with their Indian counterparts across the border. The two governments were in frequent touch on security issues at all levels. This week the foreign minister, Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk, was in Pakistan for the SAARC council of ministers' meeting and he would discuss the security issue with the Indian foreign minister. The prime minister himself would meet the Indian prime minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, in Bangkok during the BIMST-EC summit at the end of the month.

The Indian army continued to provide security to Bhutanese travellers in West Bengal and Assam and, in the rural areas, about 150 risoops (volunteers) maintained vigilance.

There are security walls in parts of the Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar towns. Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley said that, when the people of Samdrup Jongkhar proposed security walls the issue was covered by the media and Indian newspaper had even distorted the facts to make it sound like the walls would affect Indian interests. The government of India had expressed its concerns and this issue would also be discussed in Islamabad. He added that it might always be risky for Bhutanese people to travel through this part of India. People should, therefore, try to travel through Bhutan while going from one district to another. It would also bring faster socio-economic development along the highways. This was why the government was widening the roads and shortening the distances wherever possible across the country.

The Haa chimi said that, although the Indian militants had crossed the border and camped in Bhutan for so long because of the complacency of the people, the country was now safe because of the leadership and personal effort of His Majesty the King. If the people were complacent again the problem would assume far greater implications. It was not enough to just leave the responsibility for the nation's security to the army.

The Bumthang chimi agreed that there were chances of the problem recurring if adequate precautions were not taken. "We appreciate the efforts of the RBA and the government but I feel that the Assembly must make a more comprehensive decision on the issue," he said. "We are also grateful to the Indian army for the security provided to Bhutanese vehicles traveling through Assam but we must look for a permanent solution." The chimi reminded the members that the Maoists of Nepal could also pose a threat in the future. "The border, from Daifam in the east to Sipsoo in the west, must be permanently and adequately secured with physical protection where possible and the security troops must be on duty at all times."

The Speaker of the National Assembly, Dasho Ugen Dorje, said that, in the aftermath of His Majesty the King's noble initiative to remove an immediate security threat, every Bhutanese citizen was acutely aware of the need for adequatesecurity measures. The government must keep in mind the submissions of the people and continue making every effort to further strengthen national security. On the issue of the security walls, submitted to the Assembly by the people of Samdrup Jongkhar and discussed by the National Assembly, there was no reason at all for any concern for the government of India, he said.

The Speaker also noted that, as raised by the Bumthang chimi, about 2,000 people from the camps in Nepal had joined the Maoists and had entered India and they might try to create problems for Bhutan. However, these people could not enter Bhutan directly and must come through India, which had always been Bhutan's close friend and neighbour, so the risk was not as foreboding as might seem to some members, he added.

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