Tiny Himalayan kingdom tackles South Asian summit

THIMPHU, April 27, 2010 (AFP) – A visit by a top foreign dignitary is still a big event for the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. The combined presence of seven foreign heads of government is simply unheard of. Like a shy debutante taking her first steps in high society, the landlocked and still relatively reclusive nation sandwiched between China and India is playing hesitant and slightly awkward host to its first ever regional summit.

And the nerves are showing.

“As a small country, receiving so many high-level dignitaries has been very challenging for us,” the country’s foreign secretary, Daw Penjo, admitted to reporters Monday in the capital Thimphu.

“So we must ask for your patience as well as your understanding,” Penjo said.

In the 25-year history of the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Bhutan has never hosted one of the regional bloc’s leadership gatherings.

When asked to do so in the past, it had always modestly demurred, citing a lack of resources to provide the levels of comfort and security that such an event requires.

The reticence was understandable. After centuries of self-imposed isolation, Bhutan’s opening to the outside world