Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinely, who paid his three-day visit to Nepal as SAARC chairperson, said Bhutanese refugees in the UN-monitored camps of Jhapa and Morang were refugees, but not Bhutanese refugees. Organizing a press meet in Kathmandu on Saturday PM Thinely said, “They are economic refugees. They are environmental refugees. They are refugees of political instability. They are victims of circumstances that are beyond their control.” As he wrapped up his visit, Vidhyapati Mishra of Bhutan News Service talked to Bhutan Peoples’ Party President, Balaram Paudyal, on issues raised by the PM’s visit. Paudyal opined that nothing miraculous will be seen in near future. He said that Thinley’s verbal assurance to resolve the refugee issue will remain as it is. According to him, the refugees will see nothing in action. However, changes around the world indicate that Bhutan will not remain intact forever, he said. Excerpts:
How do you evaluate the recent visit of Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley to Nepal?
Paudyal : As regard to the issues of bilateral cooperation and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), his visit was fruitful. However, nothing happened on the refugee issue except his verbal assurance to resume the installed bilateral talks. He presented his similar tone as he did in his last visit to Nepal. I am not optimistic that anything positive will happen in the near future.
Your party issued a statement hinting that Thinley’s government would not resolve the refugee issue. What is the logic?
Paudyal : Thinley was the head of government before holding the so-called general election. His government was loyal to the king and crown. Later in 2008, the country witnessed a democratic transformation, though we don’t call it democracy, and new government was formed with people’s representation. Interestingly, he was promoted to the same executive post to serve the autocratic king and his family. Thus, nothing can be expected from his government as regard to finding a permanent solution to the refugee issue.
PM Thinley even said that his government would do nothing if more people decide to leave the country. How do you comment on this?
Paudyal : We have been saying that around 80,000 Nepali-speaking Bhutanese are under the threat of eviction. The international community was not taking this issue seriously. But, today Thinley clarified Bhutan is preparing to expel more citizens into exile. How can citizens who have been there for generations decide to leave the country? His statement explains that the situation for Nepali-speaking citizens is extremely bitter for their survival. Thus, we fair more expulsion by his government.
He ruled out India’s involvement in the issue. What is your comment?
Paudyal : Definitely, India is not need to resolve the refugee issue. But, for this Bhutan needs to be sincere and committed. The past has shown clearly that Bhutan lacks both sincerity and commitment. So, India is a must in this issue. Bhutan wants to prolong the issue by playing various tactics with the Government of Nepal. Thus, he ruled out any third party involvement in the issue. Further, the refugee issue is a matter to be finalized between refugees and Bhutan. So, Nepal must play a mediating role to involve refugee leaders in the bilateral talks.
Seems enough has not been done to press Bhutan to accept the citizens?
Paudyal : Of course, Bhutan has not felt pressure from the international community and powerful nation to resolve the long-standing refugee stalemate. However, Bhutan has been under pressure in the recent year. But, this is not sufficient. Bhutanese citizens have bigger role to pressurize the government.
What is your party doing then?
Paudyal : It is known to everyone that we are in a third country. Fighting for changes in Bhutan from Nepal is not as easy as any person thinks of. Besides, India has stood as the biggest barrier. Refugees and political parties in exiles have been playing their own part. The mission is still on. We hope that one day we’ll be able to bring changes in Bhutan.
Has the third country resettlement hindered the ongoing struggle for change?
Paudyal : I can’t say that the resettlement has disturbed our activities. Those who have resettled also want changes in Bhutan and wish to repatriate when a congenial environment is created inside Bhutan. The resettled folks are alert and we expect their supports and contributions whenever we need their support.
Should bilateral talks be continued?
Paudyal : Decisive bilateral talks are important on the refugee issue. Thinley’s visit to Nepal was planned before a month. When he arrived in Nepal, he told the Government of Nepal that he wants to sit for bilateral talks. But, he didn’t mention any date for holding such discussions. We must understand that he is not sincere in his words. Otherwise, he could have come to Nepal with proper homework regarding the resumption of the bilateral talks.
What Nepal should do then?
Paudyal : Nepal must form a permanent taskforce to hold discussion with refugees and their leaders, and according mediate the talks with the Bhutanese authority. Or, Nepal must formally invite India to get involved in the issue. If this also fails, the issue should be immediately internalized. This is what we have been advocating for years.
Do you think that something miraculous will happen very soon?
Paudyal : Nothing as such will be seen in near future. Thinley’s verbal assurance to resolve the refugee issue will remain as it is. Refugees will see nothing in action. However, changes around the world indicate that Bhutan will not remain intact forever. Changes will definitely come in Bhutan one day.