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Monday, 20 August, 2001, 12:45 GMT 13:45 UK
Nepal and Bhutan hold refugee talks
Talks will be aimed at speeding up the verification of refugees
About 100,000 refugees have been living in camps
By Sushil Sharma in Kathmandu

Talks aimed at resolving the problem of Bhutan refugees in Nepal are getting underway in the Bhutanese capital, Thimphu.

Authorities in Nepal say the talks will focus on verifying the true nationality of about 100,000 refugees to ensure their early repatriation.

Ethnic Bhutanese refugees in Nepal
Verification of the refugees' nationality could take years

This is the first ministerial meeting between Bhutan and Nepal since they reached a crucial agreement earlier this year to start the verification of refugees.

The Nepalese team at the talks is being led by a senior minister, Ram Sharan Mahat. The Bhutanese side is being led by its Foreign Minister, Jigme Thinley.

About 100,000 ethnic Nepalese, who say they are Bhutanese, have been living in camps in eastern Nepal for the past 10 years.

They say they were forced to leave Bhutan in the wake of alleged ethnic and political repression.

Nepal says all refugees are Bhutanese and they have the right to return to their homeland.

Calls to speed up

But Bhutan is prepared to take back only genuine Bhutanese refugees which it says are not more than a few thousand.

Verification of about 6,000 refugees has already been completed since the process began three months ago. But critics say at this rate the verification and eventual repatriation of refugees would take several years.

Refugee organisations have also demanded that the process be speeded up. The talks on Monday are aimed at finding mutually acceptable ways to accelerate the process.

See also:

27 Dec 00 | South Asia
Bhutan refugee settlement reached
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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