Category Archives: Nepal

“China’s Latest Bid to Flex Its Regional Muscle”

Ellen Bork has an article in The New Republic about Tibetan refugees in Nepal. The latest political developments might go either way for them, she says:

But the Chinese are influencing other aspects of Nepal’s relationship with their local Tibetan community. In response to Chinese pressure, Nepal has curtailed Tibetan religious and cultural activities and attempted to intimidate the local representative of the Dalai Lama. Just this year on October 18, two of the local representative’s aides and other Tibetan community leaders were briefly detained by police in connection with a memorial service for a former tutor of the Dalai Lama who lived in exile outside Kathmandu. At the same time, a U.S. State Department official visiting from Washington encountered a police presence while visiting a Tibetan settlement. And actions against activities Beijing calls “anti-China” tend to increase around the time of high level China-Nepal meetings. Any activity related to the Tibetan government-in-exile is especially targeted. Last year, Nepalese police seized 10,000 ballots cast in the elections for the exile government’s new Kalon Tripa, or chief minister. Public demonstrations in support of Tibet, ceremonies marking the Dalai Lama’s birthday, and even a Tibetan opera production have been shut down by Nepalese authorities. Conditions for Tibetans in Nepal are not comparable to those in Tibet, but the wave of desperate self-immolations inside Tibet has now spread to exile communities, with incidents in Kathmandu and Delhi.

So far, the issue of the treatment of Tibetans has not become a major concern among Nepalis. “That happens all the time,” I heard more than once from Nepalese political analysts and foreign policy experts. And China’s soft power expansion, including establishing Confucius Institutes in Nepal and courting Nepalese journalists with junkets to China, has had an impact on swaying attitudes. But some Nepalese journalists like Sradda Thapa, a columnist for the daily newspaper Republica, have argued that Nepal’s new democratic political situation ought to result in increased protection for Tibetans. “Did we not get an extensive makeover when the constitutional monarchy was christened a federal democratic republic?” Thapa argued in a November 3 column. “We are a sovereign state and it puzzles my generation—who were taught to value democracy—to witness our government deny the same to Tibetans in Nepal.”

Indeed, Nepal’s response to China’s demands doesn’t just speak to China’s increased influence in the region; it’s also an important indicator of the extent to which Nepal’s fragile democracy will prove capable of maintaining its sovereignty.

Obviously Chinese pressure will continue, but a government less inclined to reflexively favor China (instead of seeking to balance China and India) might not give in to them quite so often. We’ll see.

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“Difficult days ahead”

Worrying news from Nepal via the Telegraph Nepal, which reports that Chinese pressure may bring about even stricter controls on Tibetan refugees:

Reports coming from Ministry of Home Affairs have it that the Tibetan refugees living in Nepal will have difficult and trying times ahead. The government will soon review its policies on the Tibetan refugees that is likely to be more stringent, reports confirm.

Spokesperson Sudhir Kumar Sah of the Home Ministry tells Rajdhani Daily, November 13, 2011, that “The government is in a very difficult situation since the Tibetans have begun setting themselves on fire. The government of Nepal is committed on its one China policy. We will not allow any activities that go against the interest of our neighbors. This will lead to a situation where the government may have to slash all the facilities being granted to the Tibetans residing in Nepal, such as that of their freedom to move even.”

Sah also made it clear that the government may decide to put a ban on their business activities and their free movement.

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“Nepal releases 23 Tibetan refugees to care of U.N., rejects Chinese request to forcibly and illegally return them to Tibet”

Via ICT, some good news:

Today, Nepalese authorities turned over a group of 23 Tibetan refugees who had been held by the Department of Immigration to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR). It is expected that the group will be processed and sent to India shortly, where they will come under the care of the Central Tibetan Administration, as per the well established system for handling Tibetan refugees fleeing into exile.

“This group is safe from the danger of being sent back to Tibet, thanks to the work of the UNHCR, Nepalese lawyers and NGOs, and governments, notably the United States and the EU,” said Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet.

The 23 Tibetan refugees had been detained by Nepalese immigration authorities since September 11-13. Under normal procedures, the group would have been promptly handed over to the UNHCR for processing and onward transit to India. However, the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu intervened and demanded that the Tibetans be released into Chinese custody for return to Tibet. Such forcible return would be a violation of international law, given the credible fear of prosecution and torture of those sent back.

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“Chinese interference delays transit of 23 Tibetan refugees detained in Kathmandu”

ICT reports that we may have spoken too soon- apparently the group of refugees who crossed the border last week are being delayed now:

Human rights monitors and foreign diplomats in Nepal who monitor the situation for Tibetan refugees transiting from Tibet through Nepal are concerned for the safety of 23 Tibetan refugees in custody in Kathmandu, Nepal. The group of Tibetans has not been turned over by Nepalese authorities to the UNHCR, as per established protocols, and the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu has written a letter demanding that the Tibetans be released into Chinese custody for return to Tibet.

The 23 Tibetans were arrested by Nepalese police on September 11-13 after they crossed the border from Tibet, brought down to Kathmandu and turned over to Nepal’s Department of Immigration (DOI) in Nepal. They remain in the custody of the DOI, contravening established protocols that Tibetans crossing into Nepalese territory are promptly handed over to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) for processing and onward transit to India. The group includes eight minors (ages 13-17).

According to local sources who have interviewed them, all of the Tibetans appear to be legitimate refugees and have given reasons for escape that are consistent with thousands of other accounts over previous decades, including to see the Dalai Lama.

Under the established ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’ between the Nepal government and the UNHCR, Tibetans who enter Nepalese territory from Tibet are to be given over to the care of the UNHCR and expeditiously allowed to travel onward to India.

Tibetan refugees brought to Kathmandu are provided temporary refuge at the UNHCR-funded Tibetan Refugee Transit Center. Tibetans registered as “persons of concern” by the UNHCR enter a system administered by the Central Tibetan Administration through which they are placed in age-appropriate care and schooling or monastic institutions in Tibetan settlements throughout India.

Nepal should have just shunted them out quickly- the longer they sit there, the more interest their case will garner, and the more flak Nepal will receive from one side or the other depending on what their final decision is.

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Nepal arrests Tibetan teens for illegal entry

Tendar Tsering at Phayul has news that a number of Tibetans have been arrested by Nepal, which has recently been disregarding previous agreements on the treatment of Tibetan refugees thanks to pressure from China. It looks like this time they’ll be escorted safely through to India, though:

Barely weeks after Kathmandu assured Beijing of sustained crackdown on anti-China activities on its soil, the Nepali government arrested 20 Tibetan teenagers for entering the country illegally from Tibet, Sunday.

The Agency France Presse (AFP) reported that 15 Tibetan boys and five girls, aged 16 to 18 were stopped at a remote western Himalayan village in Nepal after crossing the border from Tibet on foot.

Nepali police started chasing them after they were seen at Pandusen Saturday night. They had reached the border district after trekking for 16 days.

According to the news agency, a police official is accompanying the teens to Kathmandu where they will be handed over to the immigration authorities in Nepal.

It is reported that the teens are expected to be given safe passage to India, which hosts the exile headquarters of the Tibetans.

Typically arriving Tibetans are given some time at the Reception Center, where a small medical staff treats them for any injuries sustained during the trip- cases of frostbite are common. Then they’re supposed to be registered and sent onwards to Dharamsala, India.

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“Kathmandu is turning into a dangerous place for Tibetans”

Kate Saunders of ICT has a piece out in The Sunday Guardian about the increasing difficulty Tibetans have in escaping to India:

Beijing’s influence over the Nepalese government, border forces, the judicial system and civil society at a time of political transition in Nepal signify that Tibetans in Nepal are increasingly vulnerable, demoralised and at risk of arrest and repatriation. Last year, Tibetan refugees, mainly women and including two sick children, had to hide in a forest in Nepal while Chinese armed police searched for them — after Nepalese police had started to transport them back to the Tibet-Nepal border. Tibetans in Nepal — the world’s second largest Tibetan community in exile after India — are experiencing harassment and extortion, more restrictions on their movements and greater difficulty securing education and jobs than ever before.

In one well-known incident in 2003, 18 Tibetans under UNHCR protection were taken from prison in Kathmandu by the Chinese embassy and driven to the border and into Tibet. Some months later, I met one of the young Tibetans among this group in a transit centre providing temporary shelter and food for Tibetans who arrive in exile. Among the mattresses on the floor and the sole possessions of the refugees in paper bags and plastic suitcases somehow carried across the most forbidding mountain ranges in the world, a young Tibetan boy was curled up in a corner, studying English letters in a notebook. Eighteen-year-old Gyaltsen told us that right after they were taken across the border, he and the rest of the group were manacled and driven to prison. He was beaten and tortured, and forced to carry out hard labour. After he was released, he risked further imprisonment by making the long journey into exile via Nepal again — determined to join his parents, who had arrived safely in India.

Despite his bleak surroundings, Gyaltsen looked immaculate in a smart, buttoned-up grey waistcoat and pressed trousers. I wrote what he said in my notebook: “Living in Tibet is like being in a very dark room, with just a glimmering of light that is the possibility of escape to India. I had to walk towards that light.”

Nepal is an essential gateway for Tibetans to escape from persecution into exile. Since a violent crackdown was imposed in Tibet from March, 2008 onwards, the number of Tibetan refugees reaching Nepal has decreased dramatically from around 2,500-3,500 a year to less than a thousand a year. Now, they are not only in danger on the Chinese side of the border, but also face new risks to their safety on the Nepalese side — despite an existing agreement with the UNHCR that should guarantee their transit to India.

Increasingly, there are indications that many of those in Nepal’s professional elite are concerned about China’s assertive actions in Nepal’s sovereign territory, recognising that acquiescence to Chinese demands directly threatens the integrity of Nepalese processes and institutions. Within Nepalese civil society, there are some moves to create legislation on the issue of status of Tibetans in Nepal and refugee rights.

Nepalese human rights monitors who are supportive of the Tibetans’ plight point out that their government’s actions run counter to close cultural and religious ties between the Nepalese and Tibetans dating back to the 6th century.

Again, this is one issue where American and Indian and UN pressure could counter Chinese efforts relatively easily, and produce real-world results for people who already have enough problems as is. I’d also hope that the Nepalese public might get a bit more active on rejecting Chinese influence- the gifts Beijing hands out always come with a huge price.

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“A bizarre project in Nepal”

For the latest on the developments in Lumbini, the Economist brings it all together:

In July Chinese media reported that the Hong-Kong-based foundation—which is widely thought to have China’s backing—had signed an agreement with UNIDO, the UN’s industrial-development organisation, to invest $3 billion in Lumbini, a village in southern Nepal. Lumbini is the birthplace of the Buddha, which the project aimed to make a “Mecca for Buddhists”, with train links, an international airport, hotels and a Buddhist university.

The news caused uproar in Nepal. Neither the central government nor the local authorities responsible for Lumbini said they had been consulted about, or even heard of, the project. UNIDO’s officers say they will not comment on the affair while they try to discover how the organisation got involved. If this was an exercise in Chinese “soft power”, it was a disaster.

India is highly sensitive to Chinese activities in Nepal. It regards Nepal as part of the Indian sphere of influence, and it is easily Nepal’s biggest trading partner and source of investment. Nepal pegs its currency to the Indian rupee. Through close cultural and linguistic ties, and the machinations of its diplomats and spies, India has long exercised a strong influence on Nepal’s politics. It is widely believed that India helped topple Prachanda (whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal) as prime minister in 2009 partly because he was thought to be too close to China.

Now the role of Nepal’s other giant neighbour is becoming more visible. Chinese interests were once limited to demanding support for their policies in Tibet. To that can now be added burgeoning commercial interests in hydro-electricity, construction and telecoms. This week China’s top security man, Zhou Yongkang, became the latest in a series of senior Chinese officials to visit Nepal, bearing loans and aid packages. Chinese diplomats have begun discreetly treating Nepalese journalists to whisky-fuelled dinners and offering them visits to China—blandishments that were once the preserve of India. Chinese hotels, restaurants and brothels have multiplied in Kathmandu.

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