Nepal gets cold feet on Everest ban

March 18th, 2008 - 11:56 am ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, March 18 (IANS) Caught in a tug of war between its giant northern neighbour China and mounting world outrage at the news of a ban on Mt Everest, the tallest peak in the world, Nepal’s government Tuesday denied blocking the way to the summit on Beijing’s request. “This is just a baseless rumour,” a tourism official told Nepal’s official media.

“The government has not received any kind of request from the Chinese government concerning this,” Prem Rai, spokesman at Nepal’s culture, tourism and civil aviation ministry, told the state-run Rising Nepal daily.

It also quoted the media consultant at the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu, who was named only as Wang, as saying, “I have no idea about a ban.”

Prachanda Man Shrestha, chief executive officer at Nepal Tourism Board, the nodal agency for boosting tourism in Nepal, said the misconception about a ban on Everest expeditions could have sprung up, as the teams applying for a permit to scale the 8,848m summit are yet to get an official approval.

However, Shrestha said the delay was not due to Chinese intervention but the critical constituent assembly election scheduled April 10.

“According to the rules, we need one government official to accompany each expedition,” the official said.

“The appointed liaison officer needs permission from the Election Commission… This is why moving ahead with the expeditions is taking a bit of time.”

However, tourism officials Monday held a meeting with mountaineering agencies and apprised them of China’s tentative plan to summit the peak with the Olympic torch between May 1 and 10.

“To prevent overcrowding on the summit, we are coordinating with the expeditions from the Nepal side so that the final attempts to reach the top are made after that,” Shrestha told IANS.

But the Nepal official conceded that China’s torch summit plan was tentative since weather dictated whether a climber would reach the top or fail.

So despite the official denial about a ban, the element of uncertainty remains. The denial came after vigorous protests by the mountaineering industry.

Earlier this month, China announced that all expeditions to Mt Everest and a lesser peak, the Cho Oyu, would be put on hold along the China-controlled northern route due to the Olympic torch rally.

Though overcrowding and environmental concerns were cited as the reasons, it is regarded as Beijing’s attempt to prevent any Tibetan rights activists from reaching the Everest region and unfurling “Free Tibet” banners.

Tibetans have been protesting against the Olympic Committee’s decision to award the games this year to China despite its tarnished human rights record.

A ruthless Chinese crackdown has begun on protesters in Lhasa in Tibet and its neighbouring provinces.

The Chinese government gave the protesters in Tibet till Monday midnight to surrender voluntarily or face stringent action.

The warning prompted the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of the Tibetans, to say that he feared a Chinese reprisal in Tibet.

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