Bhutan trying to force ethnic Nepalese out of the country

Kathmandu_(dpa) _ Bhutanese authorities are trying to force tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalese out of their country, a Nepalese media report said Friday.

The report came weeks after the United States formally announced its intension to resettle over 60,000 of the over 100,000 Bhutanese refuges living in United Nations run camps in eastern Nepal.

The Nepali-language daily Nepal Samacharpatra Friday quoted ethnic Nepalese living in southern Bhutan for generations as saying that they have been prevented from casting votes during a mock election in April in the run-up to Bhutan's general elections.

"People with relatives in refugee camps in eastern Nepal were not included in last year's census, nor were they allowed to cast their ballot during the mock elections," Nepal Samacharpatra quoted an unnamed ethnic Nepali in southern Samdu-Donzkhag province as saying.

An estimated 80,000 ethnic Nepalese were reportedly prevented from casting their ballots or excluded from the census, the newspaper reported.

The Bhutan People's Party, which operates in exile from Nepal, also said it was aware of "attempts" by Bhutanese authorities to force tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalese out of the Himalayan Kingdom, often known as "Drukyul," or the land of the thunder dragon.

In April, the United States expressed dissatisfaction that the Bhutanese authorities were not cooperating in efforts to repatriate refugees back to their homeland.

Currently 104,000 Bhutanese refugees of Nepalese origin live in seven camps in eastern Nepal. They began arriving in the early 1990s alleging prosecution by the Bhutanese authorities on the basis of their language and culture.

Several rounds of Nepal-Bhutan ministerial-level talks have failed to convince Bhutan to take back the refugees.

The population of Bhutan, once estimated at over a million and half, has now been officially downgraded just 672,425 after the census carried out in June 2005.

Although the Bhutanese government has not given a breakdown of ethnic groups, ethnic Nepalese in mid 1980s accounted for nearly one-third of the total population, mostly living in the southern part of the country. dpa kr jh


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