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Country Reports
Bhutan, Landmine Monitor Report 2004


Key developments since May 2003: In September 2004, Bhutan’s Foreign Minister stated that Bhutan would accede to the Mine Ban Treaty in 2005. Bhutan attended the Fifth Meeting of States Parties in September 2003, its first participation in a Mine Ban Treaty meeting. Bhutan for the first time officially stated that it has never produced, acquired, or stockpiled antipersonnel mines. In December 2003, during a Bhutanese military offensive to oust Indian rebels from their bases in Bhutan, there were reports of use of landmines by the rebels.

The Kingdom of Bhutan has not acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty. Bhutan attended the Fifth Meeting of States Parties in September 2003, marking the first time it participated in a Mine Ban Treaty meeting. Its representative told Landmine Monitor, “As a peace loving country Bhutan shares the goals of the Mine Ban Treaty. There are no problems to accede, only a matter of priorities.”[1] He said that the instrument of accession needs to be tabled and approved by the Parliament during its only annual session. However, accession did not make it on to the agenda for the 2004 legislative session. A delegate from Bhutan attended the treaty intersessional meetings in June 2004, but reported no progress toward accession.

In communications with the treaty’s Implementation Support Unit (housed at the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining) in August 2004, the Permanent Mission of Bhutan in Geneva indicated that Bhutan intends to accede to the Convention but will not be able to do so until its national assembly next meets in mid-2005.[2]

In September 2004, Bhutan’s Foreign Minister sent a letter to the Foreign Minister of Austria stating, “I am pleased to inform you that the Kingdom of Bhutan intends to accede to the [Mine Ban Treaty] in 2005. I shall accordingly be handing over to the United Nation’s Secretary General in September this year a letter of intent to this effect on behalf of the Royal Government... We would, therefore, like to assure the international community of our strong commitment to end the suffering caused by anti-personnel mines.”[3] The Minister also indicated that Bhutan would participate in the first Review Conference in November-December 2004.

Bhutan has voted in favor of all pro-ban UN General Assembly resolutions since 1996, including UNGA Resolution 58/53 on 8 December 2003.

During 2003 Bhutan was approached by Austria, Canada, and Japan, which urged the Kingdom to accede before the First Review Conference in November 2004.[4] In May 2004, Austrian Ambassador Wolfgang Petritsch, President-designate of the First Review Conference, visited Bhutan. In July 2004, retired Indian Ambassador Satnam Singh visited Bhutan on behalf of the UN Mine Action Service, and met with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, among others. He was assured that Bhutan intends to join the Mine Ban Treaty, and that the only obstacles are the capacity to draft the requisite legislation and to complete the internal procedures quickly.[5]

A Foreign Ministry official told Landmine Monitor in September 2003 that Bhutan has never possessed, produced, or acquired antipersonnel mines, and it is not mine-affected.[6] This was the first public confirmation of Bhutan’s status as a non-producer and non-stockpiler. Similarly, various officials emphasized to Ambassador Singh in July 2004 that Bhutan is fully supportive of the Convention, that it is neither a user nor a producer of antipersonnel mines, and is not mine-affected.[7]

The Royal Bhutan Army receives training from India and it is not known if this training includes mine laying and mine clearance techniques, or whether Indian forces stockpile mines in Bhutan to support training activities.

In 2003, there were some reports of use of landmines by armed opposition groups from the northeast Indian state of Assam, including the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), and the Kamtapur Liberation Organization (KLO). These groups have maintained their bases in Bhutan for more than a decade. On 15 December 2003, Bhutanese forces launched a military offensive to evict some 3,000 Indian rebels operating from about 30 camps in southern Bhutan. Media reports cited an official Bhutanese statement claiming that rebel “camps are usually guarded by a series of outposts and landmines.”[8] A Bhutanese military officer said the rebels were “using explosives and landmines to obstruct our build-up in key locations.”[9] The director of Bhutan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was quoted as saying that “the area leading up to the [ULFA] camps is heavily mined.”[10] Another report said that some captured ULFA militants had surrendered a variety of weapons, including three landmines.[11] Landmine Monitor has not received any reports of landmine casualties before, during, or after the military operations.

Landmine Monitor has reported in the past that several Indian rebel groups inside Bhutan possess landmines and/or improvised explosive devices, and there was at least one previous report of use of mines by Indian rebels inside Bhutan.[12]

In July 2001, six Bhutanese nationals were killed and eight injured in a landmine incident after a government vehicle triggered a landmine in India's Assam state, three kilometers from the India-Bhutan border.[13]

[1] Interview with Sangye Rinchhen, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangkok, 19 September 2003. Rinchhen also said that a department within the government in charge of international treaties was created only recently and that environmental conventions were the priority.
[2] Email to Steve Goose (HRW/ICBL) from Kerry Brinkert, Manager, Implementation Support Unit, 18 August 2004.
[3] Letter n. ICTD-4(e)/655 to H.E. Mrs. Benita Ferrero Waldner, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria, from H.E. Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Royal Government of Bhutan, 10 September 2004.
[4] Interview with Sangye Rinchhen, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 19 September 2003.
[5] Email to Steve Goose (HRW/ICBL) from Amb. Singh, 18 July 2004.
[6] Interview with Sangye Rinchhen, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 19 September 2003.
[7] Ambassador Satnam Singh, “Mission Report – Bhutan,” (undated). The mission on behalf of UNMAS was conducted 11-15 July 2004.
[8] Kamil Zaheer “Bhutan kills 20 Indian rebels in fighting,” Reuters (Calcutta), 17 December 2003; “India rebels offer to quit Bhutan,” BBC, 17 December 2003; “Landmines halting Bhutanese troops in UFLA crackdown,” India Monitor, 17 December 2003; “Centre rejects UFLA’s talks offer,” The Hindu, 29 December 2003.
[9] “India rebels offer to quit Bhutan,” BBC, 17 December 2003.
[10] “Landmines halting Bhutanese troops,” India Monitor, 17 December 2003.
[11] “Centre rejects ULFA’s talks offer,” The Hindu, 29 December 2003.
[12] One 1999 report stated that the insurgents “allegedly planted mines and booby-traps on a long stretch of territory inside south-eastern Bhutan to prevent incursions by Indian security forces from Assam. The areas along the Manas forests in Bhutan bordering Assam’s Nalbari district are completely mined. Two villagers died in a landmine explosion in July 1999.” Rakesh Chhetri, “Bhutan’s geopolitics: Indian militants and security,” Kathmandu Post, 27 August 1999.
[13] “Indian militants kill six Bhutanese nationals in landmine blast,” Agence France-Presse (Guwahati, India), 31 July 2001; Wasbir Hussain “Six Bhutanese nationals killed in land mine explosion near India-Bhutan border,” Associated Press (Guwahati), 31 July 2001.