March 23, 2001 (ICT) - Three Tibetan guides were arrested by Chinese border police near Nangpa pass in mid-January according to an eyewitness. The guides had recently assisted groups of Tibetans to flee from Tibet through 19,000 foot Nangpa pass, just west of Mt. Everest.
According to the eyewitness, who requested anonymity, the Chinese border police spotted a flashlight of one of the guides as they went to get water during the night. The guides may have been unaware that they were camping near a newly built Chinese border police station. They were immediately apprehended and detained at the border station before being taken to Tingri, and then to a detention facility in Shigatse.
Nangpa pass, known locally to Tibetans as Sha Khang-la, is the principal route used by Tibetans without passports to flee the occupied homeland. Approximately 1,000 - 2,000 Tibetans use this route every year, which involves 2-3 weeks of walking over glaciers and alpine terrain. The pass had been guarded in the late 1980s but during most of the 1990s, China did not maintain any regular presence in this remote, high altitude border area. However, last year, China built a permanent border station inhabited by 5-6 border guards, making the already dangerous border crossing even more so.
The pass is still used frequently by Tibetan and Sherpa traders who must have a permit stipulating that they are local traders who are allowed to trade within the immediate vicinity of the border.
Most Tibetans fleeing through Nagpa pass are accompanied by guides who usually charge between 500 - 1,200 yuan per person (US$60 - 120). Guides take Tibetans through Nepali and Chinese checkpoints at night and help negotiate dangerous mountain conditions.
"There are extremely mixed opinions about guides because some guides abandon weak or sick Tibetans and promise much more than they deliver," said John Ackerly, President of ICT who recently conducted a fact-finding mission to the area. ICT is studying how to best assist fleeing refugees and the local supportive villagers who make up an "underground railroad" for the fleeing Tibetans. ICT also met with local police, United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) officials, U.S. Embassy personnel, representatives of the Office of Tibet in Kathmandu and local human rights organizations and monitors.
Some guides are known to recruit Tibetans to leave with exaggerated tales of opportunity in Nepal and India but do not provide promised services and sometimes even betray the Tibetans who have hired them.
The fate of the three guides is unknown but they are likely to endure torture during interrogation and could be detained for months or more.
279 Tibetans fled their country in the first six weeks of 2001. During 2000, the UNHCR documented 2,319 Tibetan "persons of concern" who fled Tibet. This does not include hundreds who do not meet UNHCR criteria for assistance or Tibetans who leave legally with passports. Most Tibetans cite their desire to see the Dalai Lama, receive a secular or religious education and repressive conditions in Tibet as the primary reason for fleeing.
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