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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 09:49 GMT
Bhutan refugees on hunger strike
UN camp in Nepal
About 100,000 refugees live in UN-run camps

Thousands of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal are on hunger strike to press their case for repatriation.

The protest comes ahead of a crucial meeting of donor countries, who meet in Geneva on Tuesday to discuss economic aid to the tiny Himalayan kingdom.

Ethnic Bhutanese refugees in Nepal
Bhutan and Nepal cannot agree on repatriation
Refugee leaders say they want the donors to put pressure on the Bhutanese Government to take them back.

About 100,000 Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees have been living in UN-sponsored camps in Nepal after allegedly being evicted from Bhutan more than a decade ago.

Talks between Nepal and Bhutan on the issue have so far failed to resolve the issue.

Aid linkage

The refugees have been holding relay hunger strikes - where groups take it in turns to fast - since last month.

They have also been holding rallies inside the camps in eastern Nepal to draw attention to their plight.

A refugee leader, Ratan Gazmer, said people living in the camps wanted Bhutan's donors to intervene to help resolve the long-standing problem.

Refugees want the donors to link future aid to their early repatriation.

It is not clear how Bhutan's donors will respond, but their representatives who recently visited the camps did lay emphasis on an early resolution of the problem.

'Migrants'

Nepal and Bhutan have been locked in a dispute over the fate of the refugees.

Nepal insists that Bhutan should take back all the refugees. It says they have valid documents to prove their Bhutanese nationality.

Bhutan disagrees, saying that only a few thousand are genuine Bhutanese citizens.

The rest, it says, are economic migrants or those who have forfeited Bhutanese citizenship by voluntarily leaving the country.

Numerous rounds of talks have failed to produce an agreement.

The two sides reported significant progress when ministers met for a 12th time early this month, but refused to disclose any details.

Foreign ministers of the two countries are due to meet again next month.

See also:

19 Nov 02 | South Asia
06 Nov 01 | South Asia
02 Jun 02 | South Asia
04 May 00 | South Asia
07 Aug 02 | Country profiles
22 Jan 03 | South Asia
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