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July 6, 2000
Bhutan admits diplomatic baggage misuse by ULFA
Nitin Gogoi in Guwahati
The Royal Government of Bhutan today confirmed that the outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam was transferring funds through its diplomatic baggage abroad. Two employees of the Foreign Ministry have been sacked and legal proceedings have been initiated against them.
The government, which normally does not react to media report, issued a three-page statement. "In view of the serious nature of allegations, it has become necessary for the Royal Government to again clearly explain its position and the incidents which have been referred to as evidence of the allegation,'' the unsigned statement said.
"While it is true that two junior employees of the Protocol Division were found to have received money and extended some assistance to the militants, this was purely on the individual level and had nothing to do with the Royal Government of Bhutan,'' the statement said.
The employees were identified as Wanchuk Dorji, a grade 15 employee, and Lhaba Tshering of grade 17. Both employees were at the junior-most level, the statement stressed, adding that as the handling of diplomatic baggage fell within the purview of the Protocol Division, both had been assigned mailbag duty on different occasions.
"Before articles of our diplomatic pouches being used appeared in papers, they had been terminated from services, chargesheeted by the police and their cases forwarded to the district court in Thimphu. One of the charges against these two persons is sending money for ULFA through the diplomatic baggage," it said.
Police investigations have revealed that they had sent about $38,000 and Rs 3,00,000 in diplomatic baggage between January and July, 1996, the statement said, adding that two other government employees and two private individuals have been sentenced by the district court in Sandrup Jongkhar to life imprisonment and five years imprisonment respectively for dealings with the ULFA.
''This indicates the stern action that the Royal Government of Bhutan has been taking against anyone found assisting the ULFA,'' the statement said.
The government's reaction came as a spokesman of the Ministry of Home Affairs said that they were taking up the issue with the External Affairs Ministry, with a request that the matter be taken up with the Royal Government of Bhutan.
Rattled by the developments, the government warned the ULFA and NDFB militants that ''the armed forces of Bhutan will be used to remove them if they do not leave as a result of peaceful means decided by the National Assembly last year''.
The statement also suggested that it did not like the manner in which the story was leaked to the press. ''While the government employees are being dealt with, it is unreasonable to deduce that because of their activities the government is involved in supporting the ULFA militants. It is most unfortunate that Bhutan has been mentioned in the same breath with other suspected supporters of ULFA," it said.
''If the state government of Assam believes that the Royal Government is involved in supporting the militants in any manner, it is extremely unfortunate and could not be further from the truth. Assam is a neighbour whose security and well-being is important to Bhutan. The perception that Bhutan's involvement with the militants is contributing to the continuity of militancy in Assam could also not be further from the truth. It should be clear who is causing the problem and who the victims are. Clearly, everybody can see that Bhutan is an innocent victim of the ULFA militants,'' it asserted.
The statement pointed out that the Royal Government had spent a tremendous amount of resources to establish army camps and outposts and deploy troops in the area along the Bhutan-Assam border. The people of India should know that Bhutan is also suffering as a result of this problem and has had to face tremendous costs, in terms of resources and lives, it added.
On the activities of the outlawed ULFA, it said that in recent years, it has been trying to infiltrate the administration and the community, with cash inducements, entrapments through financial advances and intimidation. While this has been largely resisted, there are some cases where people have fallen victim, it admitted. "We understand that the same practices are being followed by ULFA militants in Assam," the government said.
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