G Vinayak in Guwahati
The Bhutan government will mount further pressure on Indian militant outfits based in the kingdom's jungles bordering Assam to leave the country immediately or face military action, highly placed military intelligence officials said in Guwahati.
The Bhutan government gave this assurance to visiting External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha at capital Thimphu. Sinha is on a three-day visit to the Himalayan kingdom.
"Both sides agreed to remain in close consultation with a view to addressing the problem of the militants operating in Bhutan," an external affairs ministry spokesperson said in Delhi.
Sinha met King Jigme Singhye Wangchuk at the Tashichhodzong palace in Thimphu and discussed bilateral issues, informed sources said.
He also held extensive talks with the Bhutanese Prime Minister Khandu Wangchuk.
Two outlawed rebel outfits, the United Liberation Front of Asom and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, both fighting for independent homelands in Assam, are currently operating out of well-entrenched bases inside southern Bhutan to carry out hit-and-run guerrilla strikes on Indian soldiers in the region.
Bhutan has been holding talks with the rebel leaders to leave the country peacefully.
In an understanding arrived at in June 2001, the rebels had agreed to reduce the number of camps in Bhutan by the year-end.
At least nine camps were closed down by the militants, but Thimphu now wants total closure of the rebel bases.
Bhutan's foreign secretary had said last month that Thimphu has taken up with New Delhi the issue of granting amnesty to militants to facilitate their withdrawal from the country.
The foreign secretary said that the ULFA leadership cited the strong vigil by the Indian security forces as a reason for their inability to pull out of the country, despite their promise to reduce the strength of its cadres.
Now after Sinha's visit, pressure is bound to mount on the rebels to leave the country. "In case the militants do not comply, there could be a proposal for a joint military offensive to target the rebel camps," army officials said in Guwahati.
Bhutan has admitted that ULFA alone has six camps, including the outfit's general headquarters and military training bases inside thick jungles in southern Bhutan that have a contiguous border with at least four districts in lower Assam.
Indian intelligence sources said that there could up to 3,000 ULFA and NDFB cadres in Bhutan.
There have been intelligence reports in recent past suggesting that the ISI, following stepped-up security along Kashmir boundary, was trying to expand its activities in the country through the northeast, taking advantage of the region's porous borders with neighbouring countries.
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