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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Opinion: Nepal's Tibet Problem

October 13, 2008

Katmandu should grant legal-resident status to its Tibetan population.
By KATE SAUNDERS
The Wall Street Journal Asia
October 9, 2008

As China has extended its repression of Tibetans within its own
borders, a disturbing trend has become evident beyond them: At
Beijing's behest, Katmandu has initiated a crackdown on the
20,000-strong Tibetan community in Nepal.

Nepal and Tibet share deep cultural and religious ties -- Nepal is
the birthplace of the Buddha, and many of the Himalayan peoples share
the Buddhist faith. But as Nepal's Maoists have gained in power over
the last few years, and as Katmandu responds to pressure from China,
the situation of Tibetans living in Nepal, and arriving into Nepal
from Tibet, has been increasingly insecure. Nepal's newly installed
prime minister, Prachanda, received a red carpet welcome from China's
top leader Hu Jintao when he traveled to Beijing in August on his
first foreign trip after taking office.

The new Nepalese government has tightened the screws on Tibetans
protesting against the repression in their homeland. Starting in
March, sympathy protests in Katmandu driven by exiles' anguish over
China's crackdown in Tibet were violently suppressed, with at least
8,350 arrests of Tibetans in Nepal between the start of the protests
and mid-July.

Nepalese police have frequently used excessive force to carry out
arrests. Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople have been beaten, kicked
and punched, and Tibetan women sexually assaulted by police while
being detained or in custody. Meanwhile, Katmandu appears to be
relying on Beijing for advice on how to handle the Tibet issue. Staff
from the Chinese Embassy have been seen by foreign observers and
human-rights monitors working behind police lines to guide the
handling of the protests and arrests of demonstrators, going so far
as to direct the positioning of Nepalese police officers.

Nepal is the first stop for Tibetans who make the treacherous journey
across the Himalayas into exile or to see the Dalai Lama. Today, the
border is effectively sealed. At the Friendship Bridge border
crossing point with Tibet, Chinese armed police are frequently
evident in Nepalese territory. They have questioned visitors,
prevented people from taking photographs, and intimidated local
Tibetans. There has been a quieter, stepped-up approach to return
Tibetans who reach the Nepalese border areas to Chinese-controlled Tibet.

Nor are Tibetans safe anymore if they do manage to reach Nepal. For
nearly 50 years, the flow of Tibetan refugees to Nepal has been
handled as a humanitarian issue in close cooperation with the United
Nations High Commission for Refugees, but in recent months the
Nepalese authorities have been following their Chinese counterparts
in using the term "illegal immigrants" to describe these refugees.
The Nepalese government has now announced that it plans to deport
Tibetan exiles lacking legal papers to India even though many have
been there for years.

In 2005 under Nepal's previous government, the Tibetan Refugee
Welfare Center in Katmandu and the Dalai Lama's office, both critical
to the welfare of Tibetans in Nepal and an established presence since
the 1960s, were closed down. Last year, Mr. Prachanda ruled out
reversing either move on the grounds that it would harm the country's
"good relations" with China.

Recent elections have finally put Nepal on the path to democracy. An
important test of its democratic credentials will be how humanely it
treats its Tibetan refugees and residents. Moving forward, Katmandu
should grant legal resident status to its long-time Tibetan
population, continue allowing safe transit to India for new arrivals
and sign the International Refugee Convention. At a minimum, it
should allow the re-opening of the Dalai Lama's office in Katmandu.
All these steps would be right for the Tibetans, and right for Nepal as well.
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