UNHCR appeals for calm in refugee camps in Nepal

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KATHMANDU, May 29 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency is appealing for calm in refugee camps in eastern Nepal after two refugees died following clashes over the last two days. A curfew on the camps imposed by government authorities on Monday has now been lifted on four of the seven camps. UNHCR is reviewing its daily presence in the camps.

"We are deeply concerned over violent incidents in a refugee camp in eastern Nepal in which two refugees have died and others injured during clashes which started Sunday and appeal for calm to be restored immediately," UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told reporters in Geneva. "We are saddened by the death of the refugees."

The clashes started Sunday in Beldangi II refugee camp in Jhapa district between groups of refugees with differing opinions over third-country resettlement. Some refugees want to take up offers of resettlement while others believe the group should remain together to push for repatriation to Bhutan. Police intervened to curb the violence and to maintain law and order.

UNHCR and local government authorities in Jhapa district met with refugee representatives, police commanders and local human rights groups on Monday. It was agreed to appoint a committee to investigate the incident - including the death of the two refugee youths - which would submit its report to the government in two weeks.

High Commissioner António Guterrres, who has just returned from a five-day mission to both Nepal and Bhutan last week, had during his visit to Goldhap camp told the refugees, who have been in camps in eastern Nepal since the early 1990s, that they had the freedom to chose whether to resettle, and urged refugees to respect others freedom of choice.

"Guterres assured the refugees that he would make every effort to ensure that as many doors as possible would be opened in terms of a lasting solution to their plight, including voluntary repatriation," said Pagonis.

During his mission the High Commissioner met with the prime ministers of Nepal and Bhutan and other high-level government officials, as well members of the international community and UN agencies.

In Nepal, the High Commissioner discussed the situation of the 107,000 refugees in the seven camps in the country and the urgent need to find solutions to their plight. He welcomed the constructive approach of the Nepalese government in allowing resettlement to go ahead as soon as possible following the generous offer of a core group of countries (the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Australia, New Zealand and Netherlands) to offer more than 60,000 resettlement places. An understanding was also reached with the Nepalese authorities for exit visa procedures to be simplified to ease resettlement processing.

"In Bhutan, the High Commissioner had a frank and comprehensive discussion with the government on all issues concerning the refugees. He took note of the government's concerns but expressed his deep belief that the window of opportunity provided by the core group countries through the resettlement places being made available must be seized upon, and that all parties concerned must contribute towards resolving this protracted situation," Pagonis said.

"The High Commissioner was also reassured by the Bhutanese government that the current rumour concerning the possible expulsion of the population in the south is totally groundless, and the democratic process currently underway in Bhutan is inclusive of all citizens in the country regardless of ethnic groups," she added.