25 Bhutanese face charges of aiding Indian militants

Himalayan News Service

Guwahati, January 11

At least 25 Bhutanese have been detained on charges of aiding and abetting Indian separatists amid a military offensive to expel three militant groups from the Buddhist kingdom, officials said today.

"Up to 25 local suspects are being detained and questioned by the Royal Bhutan Police on charges of accepting money from Indian rebels in exchange for providing food and other supplies," a senior Bhutanese police official told this correspondent by telephone from the southern district of Samdrup Jhonkhar.

A local court in the kingdom would try the suspects if the police file formal charges against them. "If the suspects are charged and the court finds them guilty, the sentence could range from rigorous imprisonment to life terms," the police officer said.

The official said Indian militants "bribed and coerced" poor Bhutanese into carrying their weapons and other materials while shifting camps along the jungles in southern Bhutan."Some locals voluntarily helped the rebels, while many were lured by money. Those reluctant to obey their diktats were threatened at gunpoint," the police official said.

"The 25 now under trial would be screened thoroughly to ensure that there is no permanent nexus between the locals and the rebels and to weed out any roots of militancy from the kingdom."

Bhutan last month cracked down on the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), which are rebel groups from Assam, and the Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) of West Bengal. All three had well-entrenched bases in Bhutan.

"Our troops are still carrying out mopping up operations inside the jungles to ensure that all the Indian militants are flushed out from our soil," a Bhutanese foreign ministry spokesman said in Thimphu. According to the Indian Army, 650 rebels were killed or taken into custody while eight Bhutanese troops and support personnel died since the offensive started.