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Bhutan is Sheltering Terrorists from India

Bhutan is a wounded nation. It self- inflected the wound by sheltering India’s outlawed militants from the North-east, divided the country by evicting a large number of Nepali-speaking citizens from southern Bhutan - a wound if not healed, may not just harm the Nepali-speaking Lhotshampas but the whole nation. The divided nation now is prone to continuous external threats and pressure. It has made the return of its citizen-refugees a complicated affair. These courses of actions have implicated Bhutan into the intricate regional geopolitical complexities.


The militants of United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) were provided official sanctuary in Bhutan since 1991 in return for their support in terrorizing the Nepali-speaking Lhotshampas to leave Bhutan. In 1990, immediately after the first ever pro-human rights and democratic rallies in all southern districts, the government invited the ULFA leaders to Bhutan, much to India’s  resentment. The Dzongda (Chief District Officer) of Samdrup Jhonkhar district in eastern Bhutan coordinated a meeting between the ULFA leaders, representatives of the Ministry of Home and a few prominent citizens of eastern Bhutan. The meeting decided to allow the ULFA leaders to make their bases in Bhutan in return for their support in terrorizing and eventually evicting Lhotshampas from Bhutan. Since then ULFA leaders have been living in Bhutan.


Bhutan is under tremendous pressure from the state government of Assam, Indian army and parliamentarians from northeast India to take military action against India’s two outlawed militant groups. In an unprecedented move, the Indian members of parliament from the northeast region submitted a joint memorandum to the Royal Bhutanese Embassy, Delhi, asking RGOB to initiate action against ULFA and NDFB militants based in Bhutan with the help of Indian security forces. The memorandum submitted in the first week of April, 2000 urged RGOB to initiate "deterrent action against extremist outfits with their bases in Bhutan for peace and stability in the region." The Indian army has been constantly pressurizing the Indian Government to secure permission from the government of Bhutan for a joint India-Bhutan operation to flush out the militants from Bhutan. So far, Bhutan has not accepted Indian army’s proposal for Indo-Bhutan joint army operations against the ULFA and Bodo militants. Bhutan has committed a national security blunder by allowing the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) insurgents of Assam into its territories.


The separatist ULFA and NDFB militants are fighting for an independent Assam for the last 21 years. Both their tactical and head offices are now based in Bhutan. These  rebels have been operating from their several well-entrenched bases scattered all over south, central and eastern Bhutan.  According to Indian media there are more than two dozen ULFA and Bodo camps in the villages in south-eastern Bhutan. They were seen frequently travelling in Bhutan government vehicles. The top brass of ULFA and Bodo are allegedly living in and move freely inside Bhutan according to Indian media. Militancy in Assam has claimed more than 10,000 lives during the past two decades, while hundreds of others have been maimed for life.


The newspapers of Assam have published  news stories of intimate relationship between the officials of Bhutan and ULFA leaders.  According to media. Bhutan has become a notorious hub for murderers, abductors and kidnappers from neighbouring Indian territories.


The armed rebels of Assam attacked innocent Bhutanese nationals in the Indian territories on 20 and 21 December 2000 that left 14 dead and 19 injured. We condemn this heinous crime on innocent Bhutanese and the perpetrator must be brought to justice. Southern and eastern Bhutanese are required to travel via a large tract of Indian territories to reach Thimphu, the capital.


Under pressure from the Government of India, the 78th session of Bhutan’s National Assembly held in June, 2000 decided four-pronged strategies to resolve the ULFA-Bodo problem: to continue peaceful negotiations with the militants to try and make them leave the country peacefully; to stop ration and other supplies to the camps of the militants; to punish all persons who helped the militants in accordance with the National Security Act; and, as a last resort, use military action to evict them from Bhutanese soil. The Royal Government of Bhutan (RGOB) has tried the first three options without any success.


They have not worked so far and won’t work in future, either. The militants have tersely told the RGOB they do not plan to leave Bhutan. Bhutan has left with only one option of using military action. It must take immediate steps before more innocent Bhutanese lives are perished. Indian authorities have long been accusing Bhutan of helping the insurgents. In July 2000, the RGOB reportedly admitted that the ULFA transferred funds through its diplomatic bags to foreign countries. The two employees of the Foreign Ministry were also reportedly sacked (Assam Tribune July 6 2000)


The Home Minister Thinlay Gyamtsho has been telling the ordinary citizens to come forward to protect the country. He has been telling the people of the southern district to submit themselves to end this problem since they will have to bear the brunt of the consequences of an armed conflict. It exposes the naivety of the government, by making the ordinary and unarmed Bhutanese citizens to defend the boundaries or protect the country from the foreign militant assault, while the trained Bhutan Army and police seem to be sleeping in Thimphu. It is the responsibility of country’s army and police to protect the lives and properties of the citizens from a foreign militants’ assault. It is the duty and responsibility of the government to protect the lives of the citizens.


Bhutan has so long demonstrated self-righteousness, denial and arrogance in addressing the problem faced by the nation. Had the government taken a rational approach to settle and diffuse its self-created political problems in the south, instead of blaming the southern Bhutanese and declaring them as ‘illegal immigrants’, ‘anti-national’ and dumping them into Nepalese territories, for seeking redress of their grievances, even with hindsight, the tranquility of the country would have never been disturbed to this extent. This problem of small dimension has now engulfed the entire country, divided the nation and allowed the external forces to threaten the national security and sovereignty. The government itself is to blame for this state of affairs. Thanks to the Lhotshampas’ loyalty to their nation that they have not taken up the course of armed struggle, which could have aggravated the situation.


In the initial days of euphoria in expelling its own southern brethren, the government used the 'cultivated journalists' from abroad to malign the Lhotshampa citizens from the southern Bhutan. Lhotshampas were called as 'ngolop', anti-national' 'illegal immigrants' economic immigrants etc. But now when Bhutan needed the international media on its side during the killing of innocent citizens - they were not there. Realizing the lack of coverage in international media on the killings, Bhutan's Head of the government Yeshey Zimba other day said that 'most countries were hardly bothered" reports Kuensel.


Bhutan is facing multiple problems and the worst nightmare of insecurity. Bhutan is under tremendous pressure of domestic, cross-boarder, regional and international kind is evident. Domestically, it is facing pressure from its own citizens to provide safety and protection of their lives and properties. The friendly Indian government and its army has long been persuading Bhutan to agree on a joint army operation to flush out the north-east militants hiding in Bhutan. The north-east militants have threatened the government against any Indian military intervention. The rival faction of Indian militants have warned the government to evict the militants of ULFA and NDFB from Bhutanese soil. This state of chaos has now spilled over to the killings of the innocent Bhutanese citizens.


The Indian militants have also warned Bhutan of repeating the violence acts of December 21-22, 2000 if it failed to evict the militants of ULFA and NDFB from Bhutan within a month. Technically the nation is in a chaotic situation. Bhutan is facing mounting international pressure on resolution of Bhutanese refugee issue. The donor countries, agencies, the European Parliament and the United States have persistently urged Bhutan to agree for a just and equitable solution of refugee issue. Reportedly, the international community, including the European Union, European countries, INGOs and donor agencies are closely monitoring the process of verification.


UNITY: Bhutan needs to grab the initiative and opportunity to international acclaim by taking back all its citizen refugees. The time has come for Bhutan to self-introspection that a house divided is always susceptible to intervention from neighbours. Bhutanese nation could no longer afford to be driven by catastrophes, conflicts and chasm based on state-sponsored and ever narrowing and exclusive social and political identities. Domestic reconciliation can not be achieved by arrogance, rigidity and exclusion. It is only through the government's gesture of self-abnegation and encompassing universalism, a positive solution of the Bhutanese political crisis could be consummated.


The current language of politics of self-preservation, arrogance, repression, racism and exclusion must give way to the ideals of universalism, democratic pluralism, tolerance and rule of law. If Bhutan fails this time to resolve refugee imbroglio, who knows that when the international concern on refugee issue might shift to international intervention or opinion on the need of political and democratic changes.


The international community has been united in its fight against terrorism especially after the destruction of World Trade Centre on 11 September, 2001 by the international terrorists. The international campaign led by the USA has said that those hosting terrorism and facilitating terrorists activities in other countries will also be held responsible for the act of terrorism. Such nations will also be declared as terrorists. Bhutan has to explain  its hosting of terrorists from India to the international community. The international community will definitely demand an answer.




November 23, 2001


NEW DELHI: Nov. 23 (AFP) Indian and European Union leaders on Friday issued a joint declaration against terrorism and agreed that Afghanistan needed a broad-based multi-ethnic government.

"All states have a responsibility to refrain from providing moral, material or diplomatic support to acts of terrorism, and prevent the use of their territory for sponsoring terrorist acts against other states," the declaration said.  Decisive measures must be taken "against all states, individuals and entities which render support, harbour, finance, instigate or train terrorists or promote terrorism," it added.  The declaration further said that India and the EU saw the United Nations as central to the efforts of the international community against terrorism. "We agree that terrorism anywhere and everywhere and in any form must be routed out resolutely," Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said at a joint press conference with European Commission (EC) president Romano Prodi and Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt - whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

The Kathmandu Post dated November 24, 2001

The Times of India online November 24, 2001


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