Beware of China, rights group warns Nepal

June 20th, 2008 - 2:32 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Richard Gere
By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 20 (IANS) As Nepal began its harshest ever crackdown on Tibetan refugees, arresting three leaders of the community and starting a hunt for nine more, a Tibet rights group urged the government to beware of China’s intentions in the country. The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), an organisation promoted by Hollywood star Richard Gere that works for the protection of Tibetans’ political, cultural and religious rights, has issued a press statement condemning the arrest of the three leaders of the Tibetan diaspora by Nepal police Thursday.

It asked Nepal’s new democratic leaders and the international community to be vigilant of the impact of China’s influence on long-staying Tibetan refugees in Nepal.

“These arrests are deeply disturbing at a time of transition to a new government in Nepal, when Tibetans, already vulnerable in Nepal, are very nervous about Chinese government influence and presence in Kathmandu,” the ICT statement said.

“The arrests of the Tibetan community leaders in Kathmandu follow international concerns over the often brutal treatment by Nepalese police of Tibetan protesters in Kathmandu during the past three months, which in some cases appears to have been directed by Chinese embassy officials present behind police lines at the demonstrations.”

The concern came after Nepal police Thursday arrested three Tibetan leaders from their homes in the capital and slapped them with a warrant that can send them to prison for 90 days for “affecting peace and security” and “marring Nepal’s friendly and diplomatic ties” with China by staging anti-China protests in public places.

Kelsang Chung, director of the Tibetan Reception Centre (TRC), Ngawang Sangmo, president of the Regional Tibetan Women’s Association, and its vice president Tashi Dolma have been sent to prison for 90 days, marking a departure from the earlier practice of detaining protesters at demonstrations and releasing them at night.

Police also went to the homes of nine more leaders of the community in Nepal, including the representative of the Dalai Lama in Nepal, Trinley Gyatso. However, the nine could not be arrested as they were not at home when plainclothes policemen arrived there.

“The arrests are linked to the increasing irritation of Chinese government authorities over the unremitting public and emotional expression of Tibetan solidarity in Nepal in recent weeks,” ICT said.

Tibetan refugees in Nepal began anti-China protests in March, after Beijing imposed a severe crackdown on protesters in Tibet who were marking the anniversary of a failed uprising by Tibetans against the Chinese occupation of their country.

While China says 19 people were killed in police firing during the violence that ensued, rights organisations say the figure is much more and rights watchdog Amnesty International Thursday said at least 1,000 people have been missing since then.

The Tibetan diaspora worldwide have been protesting against the March crackdown.

In Nepal, the community have kept up protests before the UN office and the Chinese embassy despite the use of force by Nepal police.

China recently asked Nepal to impose harsher punishments on the protesters. Chinese ambassador to Nepal Zheng Xianglin has accused the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of the community who now lives in India’s Dharamsala town, of sending secret agents to Nepal to foment unrest.

To gag the protests ahead of the Olympic Games in Beijing in August, China has also closed the border with Nepal, causing an acute food scarcity in northern Nepal.

The Nepal government, despite its commitment to democracy and human rights, has been unable to resist Chinese pressure and this year, in an unprecedented move, banned all expeditions to Mt Everest, the world’s highest peak, till early May to prevent anti-China rallies during the march of the Olympic torch to the 8,848 m summit.

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