Maoists among Bhutan’s Nepali refugees ready for war (Reproduction)

Published on Oct 17 2008 // Main News

BELDANGI REFUGEE CAMP, Nepal: In a secluded corner of a refugee camp in southern Nepal, Nirmal Chettri outlines his plans for waging a bloody “people’s war” on the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. 

With the intense stare of the ideologically fervent, the 26-year-old said his organisation, the Bhutan Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist), was ready to start killing for its cause. He also warned that his faction would step up attacks on thousands of Bhutanese refugees who are leaving the camps in Nepal to start new lives abroad. 

“There will be a lot of casualties and destruction but we cannot shy away from fighting for justice,” said Chettri, one of around 100,000 Bhutanese of Nepalese origin who were forced to flee Bhutan in the early 1990s. 

The refugees have languished in UN camps in southern Nepal for more than 15 years, and now — after the United States offered to resettle at least 60,000 — many are preparing to leave. 

Around 50,000 have signed up for international resettlement, and 5,000 have already left. But Chettri and his comrades want to stop the exodus, because he believes the refugees have been “brainwashed and hypnotised” and that the resettlement programme reduces his party’s chances of destroying Bhutan’s monarchy — despite the country having become a constitutional monarchy earlier this year. 

In March, Bhutan held its first ever direct parliamentary elections, ending 100 years of direct royal rule. King Jigme Singye Namgyel Wangchuck remains the constitutional head of the state, and the ruling Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) party has said it still looks to the young monarch for guidance. Despite the introduction of democracy, Chettri, the Maoist, said this does not alter his party’s plans to get rid of Bhutan’s royals. 

“The changes that they are trying to show the world are farcical and meaningless,” said Chettri. “It is still the royal family that runs things, whether they call themselves democratic or constitutional, and we will fight to get rid of them.” The International Office for Migration (IOM) — which arranges resettlement — has been bombed by radical Bhutanese Maoists, and empty buses that ferry refugees to the airport to begin their journeys abroad have also been attacked. 

“We hope Nepal’s new Maoist government will stop the resettlement. If it is not stopped within the next three months there will be bloodshed,” said Chettri. 

Another Maoist, who gave his name only as Umesh, said their group had been involved in bombings that rocked Bhutan the elections and the government in Bhutan has said the emergence of these Maoist groups is a grave concern. 

“Bhutan does not have the capacity to deal with increasing terrorist activities from refugee camps in Nepal, especially as it is focused on ensuring the success of parliamentary democracy,” Kinzang Dorji, Bhutan’s spokesman, told AFP. 

Umesh said his party would target the resettlement programme. “We believe this issue is entirely political in nature, but the United Nations, America and the Nepal government have treated it as humanitarian,” said the softly spoken 27-year-old. “Resettlement will only make things more complicated.” 

The ultra-leftist said the only solution to the refugee issue was to topple the Bhutan government to allow the refugees to return. “The root cause of this problem is the autocratic, feudal tyrants and the age-old system that has exploited the people of Bhutan. To solve the problem we have to eradicate this system,” he said.