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Thursday, 4 May, 2000, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK
UN hopeful on Bhutan refugees
Bhaktapur market
The refugees have been living in Nepal since 1990
By Sushil Sharma in Kathmandu

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, has expressed optimism of an early resolution to a 10-year old Bhutanese refugee problem.

About 100,000 ethnic refugees from Bhutan are living in camps run by the UNHCR in eastern Nepal.

Ms Ogata said a meeting between the foreign ministers of Nepal and Bhutan this month could pave way for their repatriation.

Speaking at the end of a visit to Bhutan and Nepal as part of a three-nation South Asian tour, she said verification of the refugees is expected to start within a month of the meeting.

Difference

Several rounds of ministerial meetings have failed due to differences over the identity of the refugees and the process by which to verify this.

Ms Ogata, who is now in India, said that her visit had helped both countries narrow down their differences.

She said that Nepal and Bhutan have agreed to use the first ever UNHCR-database on the refugees as a reference point for joint verification.

A majority of the refugees came from Bhutan, she said, and want to return to their homeland.

Earlier, Ms Ogata visited the refugee camps.

Indian help

Bhutan has been saying that it will take back only those who are Bhutanese citizens who, according to them, number a few thousand.

But Ms Ogata said that the Bhutanese authorities were gradually shifting their position.

Ms Ogata is the first UN High Commissioner for Refugees to visit the region, after the refugee problem started in 1990.

On the third and final leg of a South Asian tour, she is holding talks with Indian officials in Delhi.

She emphasised on the resolution of the problem through bilateral talks between Nepal and Bhutan.

But she also said that India's influence in the region could help in finding a solution.

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01 May 00 | South Asia
UN seeks to help Bhutan refugees
10 Jan 00 | South Asia
Return of Bhutanese refugees demanded
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