Security alert in Bhutan after bomb threats

By Syed Zarir Hussain


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Thimphu : Security forces have been put on alert in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan with Nepal-based separatists threatening to stage a series of bomb attacks during Monday's mock elections.

"We have put our forces on maximum alert and definitely not taking any chances," a senior Royal Bhutan Police official told IANS here on conditions of anonymity.

An estimated 5,000 security personnel have been deployed for the elections Monday.

The Bhutan Tiger Force (BTF), the armed wing of the Bhutan Communist Party(Marxist-Leninist-Maoist), a group formed by Bhutanese refugees currently residing in Nepal, has warned of triggering blasts across Bhutan.

Bhutan Monday goes for the second and final phase of the dummy polls aimed as a dry run for real parliamentary elections in 2008.

"We are taking the mock polls seriously and hence we shall carry out several blasts on Monday," BTF media secretary Bhukhamp was quoted as saying by Nepalese and Bhutanese newspapers.

The party had earlier announced an armed rebellion to overthrow the Bhutanese regime and accuses the monarchy of being autocratic, violating human rights, and indulging in corruption.

The Election Commission too has taken measures in coordination with security agencies in Bhutan to thwart any possible attempts by rebels to disrupt the polls.

"There should not be any problems," said Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, Bhutan's chief election commissioner.

The BTF earlier claimed responsibility for a blast on a parked bus last week in the southern Bhutanese town of Phuentsholing. No one was injured in the explosion though the bus was badly damaged.

Phuentsholing is close to the Indian border town of Joygaon in the eastern state of West Bengal.

The usually peaceful kingdom of 700,000 people was rocked by a series of blasts in December. Four people, including three Indians, were injured in a blast in the Phuentsholing.

"The BTF is out to create trouble inside Bhutan. We are alert," the police official said.

The BTF rebel leader claimed its cadres were undergoing guerrilla training in six of Bhutan's 20 districts.

There are an estimated 100,000 Bhutanese refugees residing in makeshift camps in Nepal after they fled the kingdom in 1997 following a pro-democracy uprising.

Bhutan has since outlawed political parties formed by those in exile, referring to them as anti-national terrorists and claims that many of the refugees are not genuine Bhutanese.

The scheduled parliamentary elections next year are the culmination of a plan by former king Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who handed his crown to his son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, in December, to change with the times and relinquish absolute rule.