Amnesty's concerns on Bhutan operation

NEW DELHI DEC. 24. Amnesty International said today that it was "seriously concerned" about reports that civilians had been caught up in a military offensive by the Royal Bhutanese Army targeting camps belonging to the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO).

In a statement, Amnesty said it understood that parts of the border between Bhutan and India had been "sealed" and entry was being denied in a five-kilometre zone on either side of the border.

"The Bhutanese and Indian authorities must allow immediate access to the border area to international observers and relevant humanitarian agencies," it said.

It cited unconfirmed reports that non-combatants, including 30 women and their children, formerly living in the camps, had surrendered to the Royal Bhutanese Army and may be handed over to the Indian authorities.

"Amnesty International is concerned that no information has been made publicly available about their whereabouts or the conditions in which they are being detained," the statement said.

Referring to "unconfirmed press reports" that a senior ULFA functionary had indicated it would initiate attacks on Bhutanese civilians living in North-East India, the group said that both sides to the conflict should adhere to international humanitarian law.

"Parties to the conflict should also ensure that civilians are able to have safe passage from the area where the conflict is taking place," the group added.

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