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Monday, 1 May, 2000, 09:43 GMT 10:43 UK
UN seeks to help Bhutan refugees
View of Kathmandu
Nepal has been hosting the refugees for 10 years
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, is visiting Nepal for talks aimed at enabling thousands of Bhutanese refugees to return home.

One hundred thousand Bhutanese refugees of Nepalese origin have been living in camps in eastern Nepal for the last 10 years.

They allege that they were forced to leave Bhutan as a result of ethnic and political repression by the Bhutanese authorities.

"We are here to facilitate ... the resolution of the problems," Mrs Ogata told reporters as she headed for the refugee camps. "The most important part of the visit is meeting refugees."


Sadako Ogata
Sadako Ogata is on a three-nation South Asia tour

Mrs Ogata said she found Bhutanese officials willing to resolve the refugee problem during her talks in the Himalayan kingdom's capital Thimpu.

Several rounds of talks between Nepal and Bhutan have failed to resolve the problem because of differences over the refugees' identity.

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

Bhutan disagrees, saying it will take back only those who are Bhutanese nationals, claiming they number only a few thousand.

Role for India

Nepal has repeatedly sought India's help in resolving the problem.

The refugees went to Nepal via West Bengal, and will have to follow the same route if and when their repatriation begins.


Bhutan monastery
Bhutan disagrees with Nepal over the refugees' citizenship

But Bhutan has refused to involve a third party in the dispute, and India insists that the problem should be resolved through bilateral talks between Nepal and Bhutan.

Mrs Ogata's four-day visit to Nepal is the second leg of a three-nation South Asian tour which will take her to India on Thursday.

A spokesman for the UNHCR in Kathmandu said Mrs Ogata would discuss the refugees' problems with the Nepalese Prime Minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, and the Foreign Minister, Chakra Prasad Bastola.

Analysts say that the first ever tour of the three South Asian nations by the UNHCR chief could prove crucial in finding a solution to the problem.

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10 Jan 00 | South Asia
Return of Bhutanese refugees demanded
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