Famine in Nepal after China closes Tibet border

June 14th, 2008 - 1:06 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 14 (IANS) The northern tip of Nepal adjoining Tibet is facing a famine after China closed its border in a bid to crush protests by pro-Tibet activists. Nepal’s Mustang district, which was once part of an ancient Tibetan kingdom, has been reeling under food scarcity after China virtually closed its border with Nepal to stifle protests ahead of the August Olympics.

An ancient land nestling among snow-clad mountains that make it inaccessible, Mustang lacks roads, and residents still use horses and mules to transport goods. Once part of the Tibetan salt trade route, Mustang gets its food supplies and other essential goods from Tibetan villages, which are closer than Nepali towns.

About three months ago, China stopped issuing visas for tourists from Nepal and clamped stringent restrictions on Nepalis who used to cross over to Tibet for supplies.

Beijing is enraged that anti-China protests are continuing in Kathmandu despite the government’s allegiance to the ‘One China’ policy and repeated pledges by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala not to allow anti-China activities in Nepal.

Zheng Zianglin, China’s new ambassador in Kathmandu, has mooted harsh punishments for Tibetans protesting in Nepal demanding better human rights in Tibet and release of political prisoners.

However, Nepal, warned by the US not to violate the fundamental rights of the peaceful demonstrators, has not dared heed the demand.

But to show its loyalty to Beijing, Nepal, in an unprecedented move this year, banned all expeditions to Mt Everest, the world’s highest peak, till early May so that China could send its Olympic torch to the 8,848 metre summit without facing protests on the way.

China is also concerned that supporters of an “Independent Tibet” movement could be trying to raise an army in north Nepal to increase the opposition to Beijing’s stranglehold on the former Buddhist kingdom.

Earlier this month, a media report in Nepal claimed that almost 500 Nepalis of Tibetan origin had been recruited from another remote northern district, Sankhuwasabha, to form a “religious army” loyal to the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader.

There was no official comment on the report.

Though Nepali traders have been urging the government to take up the border curbs with China, it has not done so.

China has been following the carrot and the stick policy with Nepal. While it remains impervious to entreaties about the border, it is flying out Nepali politicians to the Communist republic to woo their support for the “One China” policy.

Earlier this month, the powerful Maoist information and communications minister visited China on invitation. Maoist supremo Prachanda is expected to follow.

“I am very eager to go to China,” Prachanda was reported as saying. “I want to go to Chairman Mao’s village and home and draw inspiration from there.”

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