Nepal

Bhutanese refugees int'l issue: India admits for first time

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KATHMANDU, Jun 11, 2007 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- India has for the first time said the Bhutanese refugees issue is an international problem, local newspaper The Kathmandu Post reported on Monday.

"It is an international problem and the government of India is trying to work out a solution," The Indian Express, an English daily, quoted Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee as saying after Mukherjee met with the chief minister of West Bengal Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Saturday evening.

India had been dubbing the refugee issue as a bilateral issue between Nepal and Bhutan, to date.

"Nepal claims that these are not Nepalese citizens and Bhutan is also not ready to accept them. The refugees want to enter Bhutan and they want to pass through Indian territory," Mukherjee said further.

He also told the media that the West Bengal chief minister urged him to initiate a dialogue between Nepal and Bhutan to find a solution to the crisis.

"We are in friendly terms with both countries," Mukherjee added, claiming that the repatriation of the Bhutanese refugees to their homeland would cause demographic imbalance in Bhutan.

"The population of Bhutan is about 600,000. If these 100,000 people (Bhutanese refugees) enter Bhutan, it would create a demographic imbalance," Mukherjee said.

At least two persons had died by the bullets of Indian security personnel when large number of refugees were marching across the Nepal-India border by Mechi Bridge to go back to Bhutan at the end of May.

Some 107,000 Bhutanese refugees have been living in seven camps in eastern Nepal for the last 16 years.