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Refugees Intent on Return to Bhutan Thwarted in Attempt to Cross Border Into India From Nepal


Refugees in Nepal trying to make their way back home to Bhutan via India have clashed with Indian border troops. Casualties are reported on both sides after Indian forces opened fire. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.

After being refused permission by India to transit through the country to get to Bhutan, a group of refugees in Nepal turned violent as they tried to force their way across the border.

A top police official in the Indian state of West Bengal, Raj Kanojia, says the initial attack by thousands of refugees on Indian border guards took place Monday at Karkavitta and continued on Tuesday.

"They attacked them with bricks, and they threw acid bombs at them," he said. "This morning the whole thing started again and there have been some injuries, especially on the security forces' side. We arrested about 30 to 35 people but regarding the injuries (to the refugees) we won't be able to comment because they are all in Nepal."

The senior police official told VOA News that he could not confirm media reports that Indian forces fired on the refugees on the Nepalese side of the border. Both sides of the border are under curfew and it has been difficult to verify the number of injured refugees and their condition.

The director of the Asian Center for Human Rights, Suhas Chakma, says it is not surprising that refugees would be fired upon by Indian personnel.

"The Indian security forces are always known for using disproportionate force, so when somebody is trying to cross the river the Indian security forces resorting to firearms cannot be ruled out," Chakma said.

The United States has offered to re-settle 60,000 of the more than 100,000 refugees who have languished in Nepal for 15 years after being kicked out of Bhutan. The refugees are mostly ethnic HIndu Nepalese. Some insist on going back to Bhutan, although the Buddhist kingdom has given no indication it will accept them despite requests by American and other diplomats that Bhutan take a token number.

Human rights expert Suhas Chakma says many of those who do not want to go the United States are allied with the Maoists.

"Some of the refugees, which are being guided by the Communist Party of Bhutan, they believe they should be returned to Bhutan instead of being resettled in third countries," Chakma said.

The tension between those who want to go to America and others hoping to return to Bhutan led to a clash Sunday in a refugee camp in Nepal. Officials say two refugees were killed when police opened fire in an attempt to quell the violence between the two factions.

An estimated 10,000 refugees in Nepal timed their march to the Indian border to coincide with a second round of mock elections in Bhutan. The small kingdom, which did not begin to build a modern infrastructure until the 1960s, is transitioning from an absolute monarchy to a parliamentary democracy. The mock elections are a dress rehearsal for voting scheduled for next year.

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