Nepal

Nepal: Bhutanese refugees warn of more protests

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Kathmandu_(dpa) _ Bhutanese refugees have warned of fresh protests along Nepal's international border with India if India reneged on its promise to help resolve the crisis, a top refugee leader said Tuesday.

The warning came two days ahead of the deadline set by the refugees for India to organize a tripartite meeting between Nepalese, Indian and Bhutanese government officials to discuss the issue.

"If the Indian security forces open fire, we are ready to die," Bhutanese democracy leader Tek Nath Rizal said. "But we will not stop our demonstrations at the Nepal-India border to press for our right to return to our homeland."

In late May two Bhutanese refugees were killed when Indian security forces opened fire as they tried to enter India despite a curfew order to prevent the refugees from marching towards Bhutan. Scores of refugees were injured.

The protests were suspended after India assured it will look into the refugee's demands for passage to Bhutan through Indian territory.

Rizal who was once a member of Bhutan's Royal Advisory Council, was imprisoned in Bhutan for more than 10 years for his belief in democracy. The Bhutanese King granted him a pardon following bilateral negotiations between Bhutan and Nepal on the plight of the refugees.

Rizal has also cast suspicion on the Indian offer to hold talks with Nepal and Bhutan to resolve the fate of more than 104,000 refugees living in eastern Nepal for more than 16 years.

"For the last 16 years, India has said the refugee crisis is a bilateral issue between Bhutan and Nepal. Now it says it is an international issue - that is something suspicious," Rizal said. The latest refugee crisis erupted into violence following offers of resettlement by the United States in April.

The US has said it is willing to resettle more than 60,000 refugees while Canada and Norway have also shown interest in the resettlement process.

According to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, there are just over 104,000 Bhutanese refugees, mostly ethnic Nepalese, living in seven UN-run camps in eastern Nepal.

The refugees began arriving in Nepal in the early 1990s, alledging persecution by the Bhutanese government based on cultural, lingual and religious differences. dpa kr jh

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