India-Pakistan: December 16, 2003

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: The Bhutanese Army launched a military offensive against Indian separatists operating from the land-locked Himalayan nation that shares borders with China and India, and controls key mountain passes. This is the first offensive action by the 6,000-strong army in the nations history. There are reportedly about 3,000 rebels, primarily divided among three groups in 36 camps: The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the Kamatapur Liberation Organization (KLO). These groups primarily operate in the southeast part of Bhutan.

The rebel groups used Bhutan as their base of operations for hit-and-run attacks against Indian forces. The Bhutanese government, an absolute monarchy, has close ties with India, which handles international and defense affairs for Bhutan. This arrangement, originally with the British prior to Indian independence, was formalized in a 1949 treaty. The situation in Bhutan is serious enough that Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuk has abandoned his studies in England to join the militia.

India has mounted a few cross-border raids to deal with the separatists in the past. Given the close ties that the two countries have, there is a possibility that this action has been coordinated with India so as to increase the prospects of success against the rebels. Harold C. Hutchison

 

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