Nepal: China's diplomats out to silence witnesses to Nangpa La mountain pass atrocity Print E-mail
 London -- Wednesday October 11, 2006

China tries to gag climbers who saw Tibet killings

By Leonard Doyle, Foreign Editor [Read MORE]

Chinese diplomats in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu are tracking down and trying to silence hundreds of Western climbers and Sherpas who witnessed the killing of Tibetan refugees on the Nangpa La mountain pass last week.

This ominous development comes as fears grow for the safety of a group of Tibetan children, aged between six and 10, who were marched away after at least two refugees including a nun, were shot dead.

The children were being sent by their parents into exile in Nepal to be educated as part of a group of about 70 refugees crossing the Nangpa Pass. Secretive crossings are usually made at night or in winter. But this time - probably because of the children in their group - the Tibetans crossed in the morning. They were travelling lightly, clad in jackets and boots without any mountaineering equipment, when they were attacked.

The nun who was killed, Kelsang Namtso, 17, was leading the children. A 13-year-old boy was also gunned down during 15 minutes of shooting witnessed by Western climbers, including two British policemen, 1,000 yards away at Cho Oyu camp.

Later three Chinese soldiersmarched the child-ren through the camp - some 12 miles west of Mount Everest - as climbers and Sherpas looked on. None of the Westerners tried to help the Tibetans.

Fears for the safety of Western climbers still in Tibet and worries that China will clamp down on profitable climbing operations - it costs up to £30,000 for an attempt on Everest - have meant that news of the incident has been slow to emerge. An American climber, who asked not to be identified, told of his revulsion at the failure of other climbers to speak out.

"Did it make anyone turn away and go home? Not one," he said. "People are climbing right in front of you to escape persecution while you are trying to climb a mountain. It's insane."

So far there has been no official Chinese comment about the incident.

After the attack about 41 refugees, including a seven-year-old girl escaped over the pass into Nepal. There they have been cared for and interviewed by the International Campaign for Tibet. One of the monks who escaped said: "When the Chinese started shooting, it was terrifying. We could only hear the gunfire and our friends screaming. We tried to take care of the seven-year-old girl with us."

Chinese border security personnel now have custody of nine children, aged between six and eight, as well as an old man.

The Chinese embassy in Kathmandu yesterday contacted Steve Lawes, a British police officer who witnessed the shooting, and called him in for interview.

Mr Lawes, speaking from Nepal, described an "intimidating" atmosphere as the security personnel "took over" the camp at Cho Oyu, on the border between Tibet and Nepal. Mr Lawes from Bristol, said that about half-an-hour after the shooting the children were marched through their camp. "The children were in single file, about six feet away from me. They didn't see us - they weren't looking around the way kids normally would, they were too frightened. By that time, advance base camp was crawling with soldiers. We were doing our best not to do anything that might spark off more violence."