State visit: At the invitation of the His Majesty The King, His Majesty Carl XVI Gustaf the King of Sweden accompanied by Her Majesty Queen Silvia arrived in the country yesterday.

Their Majesties were received by Her Royal Highness Princess Kezang Choden Wangchuck, Her Royal Highness Princess Dechen Yangzom Wangchuck and senior government officials at the Paro International Airport.

His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen welcomed Their Majesties at the Tashichhodzong.

Their Majesties were ushered in to the dzong in a traditional chipdrel ceremony and the armed forces presented a guard of honour.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay called on Their Majesties yesterday evening.

His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen hosted a private dinner for Their Majesties.

Their Majesties the King and Queen of Sweden will attend the inaugural session of the Bhutan-Sweden Cooperation Forum today.

Their Majesties will visit two United Nations projects: one on preparedness for and reducing the risks from climate-exacerbated forest fires, and another on empowering Buddhist nuns to provide sexual education.

Their Majesties will first visit a section of the multi-use fire access trail that rings Thimphu city, constructed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests with help from volunteers. Thimphu experienced 25 forest fires during the fiscal year 2015-2016, more than double the number in 2014-2015.

While such fires tend to be human-induced, they are exacerbated by rising temperatures and prolonged dry periods resulting from climate change.

The United Nations Development Programme and Global Environment Facility (GEF) supported construction of 5km of the trail. Covering Debsi, Ramtokto, Kuenselphodrang and Namseling, the trail is designed as a fire buffer and to improve access and response time for firefighters.

“Sweden’s contributions to the GEF and the Green Climate Fund are consistent with its commitment to combat climate change, and its aspiration to become the world’s first fossil-free welfare nation,” UN Resident Coordinator in Bhutan, Christina Carlson said.

“Through this visit Their Majesties will learn more about Bhutan’s similar commitment to remain a carbon-negative nation, as caring for the environment is part of its philosophy of Gross National Happiness.”

Their Majesties will also visit the Sangchen Dorji Lhendrup nunnery in Wolokha in Punakha, one of 26 nunneries in Bhutan where the United Nations Population Fund in collaboration with the Bhutan Nuns Foundation works to advance education on sexual and reproductive health and gender based-violence prevention.

“Given nuns’ trusted role in Bhutanese society, they can effectively extend their learning to the communities and schools where they live and work,” the press release stated. The training has reached more than 1,200 nuns and monks to date.

“Early marriage, teenage pregnancy and low use of contraception are common among young people in Bhutan,” Christina Carlson said.  “Nuns are on the front line for providing accurate advice to young women in many parts of Bhutan, and can have a real impact on teenagers’ choices.”

The visit reflects Sweden’s longstanding partnership with the United Nations on achieving sustainable development results, a press release from the United Nations Office stated.

“Sweden provides critical support to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in developing countries through its contributions to the UN,” said Christina Carlson.

“Sweden is determined to lead by example, taking on critical issues such as climate change, gender and rights both at home and through foreign policy.”

In addition to Swedish funding to the UN, which supports UN offices and programmes globally and in Bhutan, the Swedish National Committee for UNICEF contributed USD 2.1 million for improving the quality of education in Bhutan, including through establishing early childhood care and development centres.

This is Their Majesties’ second visit to the country; the first one was a private visit in 1993. Bhutan and Sweden established diplomatic relations in 1985.

Their Majesties are accompanied by Minister of Social Security Annika Strandhall, Sweden’s ambassador to Bhutan Harald Sandberg, senior government officials and a business delegation.

The visit is expected to further strengthen the longstanding friendly relationship between Bhutan and Sweden.

Tshering Palden