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US pressures Nepal on Tibetan exiles

March 12, 2011

By Saransh Sehgal
Asia Times Online
February, 25, 2011

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/MB25Ad01.html


DHARAMSALA, India - A trip to Tibetan refugee centers in Nepal by a
high-profile United States diplomat could be seen as part of the United
States' "soft spot" for Tibet, or it could be seen as Washington defying
China over human rights.

Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Mario Otero,
who also serves as the White House's special coordinator for Tibetan
issues, visited Tibetan refugee centers in Nepal and southern India last
week during a week-long trip to South Asia. During her visit, Otero
showed the US's solidarity to Tibetan exiles, even pressing Nepalese
authorities to soften their stance on refugees. She also held bilateral
meetings with senior government officials in New Delhi, Nepal and Bhutan.

Otero was accompanied with Scott H DeLisi, the US ambassador

to Nepal, and other US diplomats. They met with Nepalese Prime Minister
Jhala Nath Khanal and raised issues relating to challenges faced by
Tibetan refugees. "We made it clear that this is an important issue for
us," Otero told Nepalese media.

The envoy called on the Nepalese government to honor the United
Nations-brokered "gentlemen's agreement" between Nepal and the UN High
Commissioner for Refugees to provide safe transit to Tibetan refugees
who wish to travel through Nepal to Dharamsala, India, the capital of
exiled Tibetans. She also raised the issue of free passage for refugees
from Tibet who face problems in Nepal due to their lack of identity
cards. "There is a stable practice while dealing with Tibetan issues
which ensures providing them free passage to India," the US envoy was
quoted by Kantipur online.

Otero urged the Nepalese government to allow Tibetan refugees free
passage to India without restrictions. She also pledged the continued
support of the US government for the safety and welfare of Tibetan
refugees in Nepal.

She highlighted the problems faced by Tibetans in the Himalayan region,
according to Milan Thuladhar, the foreign relations adviser to the
Nepalese prime minister. He said Khanal told the US guest that his
government was dealing with the issue in accordance with its
international human-rights obligations.

The US undersecretary also visited a Tibetan reception center in
Kathmandu to meet and talk with newly-arrived refugees. Earlier in her
trip in India she visited Bylakuppe, the Tibetan settlement in southern
India, where she held an interactive session with students, monks and
nuns. She was hosted by the Dalai Lama's special envoy, Lodi Gyari, and
officials from the government-in-exile.

Visits by US officials have always been regarded as of much value among
Tibetan exiles. "Undersecretary Maria Otero expressed the United States'
continued support for the safety and welfare of Tibetan refugees in
Nepal, and said she would carry their message back to Washington," said
Todd Stein, director of government relations at the International
Campaign for Tibet (ICT). "Her visit signals that concerns for Tibetans,
both the refugees and vulnerable long-staying population, remains a key
interest in US relations with Nepal."

The ICT, a US-based Tibet lobby group, also said the act was an
"indication of the United States' commitment to a negotiated resolution
on Tibet that preserves the distinct religious, cultural and linguistic
heritage of the Tibetan people".

Nepal has launched many crackdowns on Tibetan exiles. About 20,000
Tibetan refugees live in Nepal, according to government statistics, but
thousands more live as illegal migrants. Nepal repeatedly vows not to
allow anti-China activities on its soil, and strictly observes a "one
China policy" that holds that Tibet is part of China.

The Chinese pressure has been such that Nepal has refused to recognize
refugees who arrived after 1989, significantly limiting their social,
economic, political and civil rights. It is also known that Tibetan
refugees are also not allowed to register marriages and the birth of
children. Recent US Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks have also
revealed Nepal's stringent policies treating Tibetans who fled from
Tibet to Nepal.

China pays Nepalese police to arrest Tibetan refugees as they cross over
the border to escape persecution. However, the Chinese government
contends that Tibetans arriving in Nepal are illegal migrants and has
sought their repatriation. Presently, the Chinese influence is so strong
that Nepal, which was once supportive of the Tibetans, is now turning
away Tibetan refugees and handing the newly arrived refugees over to the
Chinese.

"The link between China's aggression against Tibetans and Nepalese
police actions has contributed to an environment of fear and insecurity
in Nepal's Tibetan communities," the ICT said.

As China frowns on any country hosting and supporting Tibetan exiles in
any capacity, especially the iconic monk the Dalai Lama, the recent
support shown by the United States in visiting Tibetans in Nepal would
upset Beijing, which is witnessing warming Sino-US relations.

During Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington in January,
where he was hosted with a state dinner, the two sides agreed to build a
cooperative partnership based on mutual respect. Most importantly, they
discussed issues related to human rights.

Obama said during a joint news conference, "As I've said before and I
repeated to President Hu, we have some core views as Americans about the
universality of certain rights - freedom of speech, freedom of religion,
freedom of assembly - that we think are very important and that
transcend cultures."

Interestingly, Hu admitted that on human rights "a lot still needs to be
done" and that Beijing was willing to have dialogue as long as it was
based on mutual respect and non-interference in China's internal
affairs. The US, he said, must recognize that Taiwan and Tibet are
"issues that concern China's territorial integrity and China's core
interests".

Experts believe Hu's visit has advanced Sino-US relations, with each
side better understanding the other. "Hu's visit was very important for
both sides to have realistic, pragmatic, stable expectations of the
other and to understand not only what are the problems in the
relationship, but also to understand how those problems look from the
other side," Kenneth Lieberthal, the director of the John L Thornton
China Center at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said.

"We have too many overlapping interests and goals that are of
significance bilaterally, regionally and globally. The visit made
progress on those issues and those issues are ones that always need
constant work," he added.

Regarding Tibet, Nepal finds itself in a bind, pressured both by the
world's two largest economies. The latest US gesture was Otero's pledge
to provide US$850,000 in assistance to the Nepal police to improve its
security capability.

"The US government has a robust partnership with the Nepal police
because we understand that improving law and order in Nepal and
protecting Nepalis' security are essential tasks for a country coming
out of the insecurity of a long conflict," Otero said.
Nepal now is in a difficult position. On the one hand, it is under
enormous pressure from China, its neighboring giant, to block Tibetan
refuges and to bar anti-China activities by Tibetan refugees. On the
other hand, it faces growing pressures from the West to protect the
human rights of refugees.

Tsering Namgyal, one of those refugees, has closely watched Nepalese
government policies. He says his family is still in a refugee center in
Nepal, where it is not safe. "It will be too early to say that US
government pressure will have any affect on the Nepalese government, as
China may get tougher."

Saransh Sehgal is a contributor based in Dharamsala, India, who can be
reached at info@mcllo.com
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