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Wednesday, 27 December, 2000, 22:01 GMT
Bhutan refugee settlement reached

By Sushil Sharma in Kathmandu

Nepal and Bhutan have agreed on how to decide whether refugees from Bhutan living in eastern Nepal for the last ten years have the right to return to Bhutan.

Following a three-day meeting between Nepalese Foreign Minister Chakra Prasad Bastola, and his Bhutanese counterpart Jigmi Thinley, the two countries have agreed to set up a joint team to verify which of the refugees have Bhutanese nationality.

The agreement is being seen as an important breakthrough in resolving the long-standing dispute over the repatriation of the refugees.

Several rounds of such talks in the past had failed due to differences over verification methods.

Verification

Nepalese foreign ministry spokesman, Gyan Chandra Acharya, told the BBC that the team leaders would visit the camps in eastern Nepal to begin the verification of the refugees nationality by the end of next month.

Ethnic Bhutanese refugees in Nepal
Verification of the refugees will start in January
One hundred thousand ethnic Nepalese refugees who say they are Bhutanese have been living in camps in Nepal for the last ten years following their alleged eviction by the Bhutanese government.

Nepal says that all refugees are Bhutanese nationals, and that Bhutan should allow them to return to home.

Bhutan is prepared to take back only a few thousand who it says are genuine Bhutanese nationals.

Nepalese vindicated

Nepal wanted to verify the nationality of the refugees on the basis of the head of the refugee family. Bhutan favoured the verification of individual refugee.

That the two countries have now agreed to start the process on the basis of the family is widely seen as the vindication of the Nepalese position.

The agreement is an important breakthrough in the bilateral talks on resolving the long-standing dispute between the two countries.

However, analysts say the total resolution of the problem is still a long way off, as verification will take a long time to be completed.

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See also:

01 Dec 00 | South Asia
US appeal over Bhutan refugees
22 Nov 00 | South Asia
Bhutanese despair in exile
25 May 00 | South Asia
Bhutan refugee talks deadlocked
04 May 00 | South Asia
UN hopeful on Bhutan refugees
24 Apr 00 | South Asia
Bhutan crticised over Nepalese refugees
10 Jan 00 | South Asia
Return of Bhutanese refugees demanded
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