Prime Minister to visit Bhutan on May 16

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{image-manmohan singh_15052008.jpg}New Delhi, May 15: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will leave here tomorrow morning on a two-day visit to Bhutan during which he will dedicate the 1020 MW Tala hydro-electric project, built with Indian assistance, to the people of the Himalayan kingdom and lay the foundation stone of the 1095 MW Punatsangchhu hydel station.

Dr Singh will hold talks tomorrow with King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk and his father, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, who had abdicated in favour of his son some time ago. He will also have discussions with Prime Minister Lyonchen Jigme Y Thinley on various issues of mutual interest, including India's development cooperation with Bhutan. The visit is taking place just weeks after the people of Bhutan made a historic transition to democracy by voting for the first time in March this year and Dr Singh will address a joint session of the country's new Parliament.

The visit will also mark the 50th anniversary of the trip made by India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to Bhutan in 1958.

''India and Bhutan share uniquely warm and cordial relations characterised by close consultations, maturity, complete trust and mutual understanding,'' a spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs had said ahead of the visit.

Dr Singh will use the opportunity to reaffirm to the Bhutanese leaders India's commitment to carry forward this close relationship and enhance economic cooperation.

Bhutan is currently finalising its 10th Five-Year Plan (FYP), to which India is expected to make a contribution of around Rs 4500 crore.

Since 1961, Bhutan has completed eight FYPs, two of which were totally financed by India. A revised package of Rs 2610.14 crore was approved last year as India's share of the 9th FYP.

Among other things, the two sides will also discuss ways of improving connectivity between the two countries and upgrading border infrastructure. India shares a 700-km open border with Bhutan and the two countries are working together to keep the area safe and secure.

The Royal Bhutan Army had undertaken successful operations in December, 2003 and January, 2004 to evict Indian insurgent groups that had set up camps on the Bhutanese side.

Since then, the two countries have been cooperating on security and border management through regular meetings, coordinated patrolling and exchange of information.

The relations between the two countries are governed by the India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty, which was signed in 1949 and updated in February last year.

It provides for, among other things, perpetual peace and friendship, free trade and commerce and equal justice to each other's citizens.

The two countries signed an agreement in 2002 as a result of which India is committed to importing 5,000 MW of power by 2020.

Last year, India imported five billion units of power from Bhutan at a cost of Rs 975 crore.

The two sides will also discuss the future of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), in which they and six other countries of the region are members.

Dr Singh is scheduled to return home on Saturday evening.


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