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Bhutan's Radicalized Refugees: Part III

Friday, Jan. 23, 2009

Last of a three-part series. Part I can be found here. Part II can be found here.

Audio Reporter's Notebook: Don Duncan discusses how recent resettlement efforts have affected Bhutanese refugees left behind in the camps, and the implications for the militant groups in their midst. (Trouble listening with the above flash player? Download the audio.)

THIMPHU, Bhutan -- The banners, portraits and flags marking the Bhutanese monarchy's centenary in 2008, are slowly being taken down in Thimphu's main streets, as the country eases itself into the new year. But while the rest of the world braces itself for 2009, and the change an Obama presidency may usher in, for Bhutan, 2008 was already a year of change unlike any other.

The royal family, father and son, overlooking a Thimphu street (Don Duncan).

In March, two years after Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth King of Bhutan, abdicated his throne, Bhutan became the world's youngest democracy. Wangchuck's 28-year-old son and heir, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, was later crowned the fifth king and head of state of Bhutan's constitutional monarchy in November. He vowed to shepherd democracy as it develops.

"I will protect you as a parent, care for you as a brother and serve you as a son. I shall give you everything and keep nothing," he said to the unprecedented crowds gathered in Thimphu to see the Raven Crown placed on his head by his father, the fourth king. "Destiny has put me here."

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck surveys the activity at Thimphu's trendy Art Café (Don Duncan).

For hardliners among Bhutan's ethnic Nepalese refugees, stranded in seven camps in eastern Nepal, the coronation represented the latest chapter in the continuing dominance of the country's Dzongkha-speaking Buddhist majority, known as Drukpas. It was Drukpa anxiety over the swelling Nepalese-speaking Hindu population in Bhutan that sparked their expulsion in the early 1990s.

But now, according to Prime Minister Jigme Y Thinley, the arrival of democracy -- and its iron-clad constitution -- to Bhutan has made ethnic discrimination a thing of the past.

Thimphu Valley, Bhutan (Don Duncan).

"Now all sections of society, the ethnic Nepalese in particular, feel empowered," the prime minister told World Politics Review. "They can speak up. Now they feel they can be heard, and they are being heard." ...

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