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In Policy Shift, Nepal Deports 18 Tibetan Refugees to China

June 01, 2003|From Times Wire Services

BEIJING — Nepal deported 18 Tibetans to China on Saturday, breaking a long-standing policy of handing refugees over to U.N. authorities and setting a precedent that could cut off the primary route for Tibetans trying to reach the Dalai Lama's exile government in India.

The group included women and children as young as 6, according to an American scholar who followed the police motorcade from Nepal's capital, Katmandu, to the Chinese border.

"It was a very tense, very depressing situation," Robert Barnett, a professor at Columbia University, said by phone from Katmandu. "It suggests a major change, in that Nepal will be willing to do China's bidding in this area now."

The deportation occurred over the protests of the United States and European nations, as well as the U.N. high commissioner for refugees. Witnesses said the Tibetans shouted and cried for help as police in Katmandu loaded them into a bus.

Nepal occasionally forces Tibetan refugees it captures near the border to return to China, but it has never publicly deported Tibetans who make it past the border area. Instead, it usually transfers them to the United Nations, which runs a center for Tibetan refugees in Katmandu and resettles about 1,500 every year in India.

China contends that Tibet is part of its territory.

It was unclear what prompted the Nepalese government to abandon its policy, but John Ackerly, president of the International Campaign for Tibet, called Saturday's action "a terrifying precedent."

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