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WASHINGTON, June 5, 2003--Eighteen Tibetan asylum-seekers forcibly repatriated from Nepal have been unexpectedly detained at a remote Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) border area after two members of the group developed symptoms of the deadly SARS virus, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports. Once they reach their destination in the city of Shigatse, most will face three months of mandatory re-education.

Two TAR officials were sent from Shigatse, west of the provincial capital Lhasa, to collect the 18 Tibetans after they were handed over to Chinese officials in Nepal, official sources told RFA's Tibetan service. But the group was stopped "at a place between Dram and Nyalam when two members of the group developed fevers and the officials became worried that they could have SARS," said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They could be detained there for 10-20 days."

Once the detainees arrive in Shigatse, an official said, "they will be detained for re-education for three months. Only then they will be allowed to leave for their homes. Children will be handed over to their parents, who will have to come and get them. They should bring an introductory note from local officials. Any child who is accompanied by family members will be released with his or her relatives."

"They could be detained here in Shigatse until late July," the official said.

Another Chinese official told RFA this week that the group could face criminal charges. In Shigatse, (in Chinese, Xigaze), they are to be held at the Qian Song Zhan holding center. Another source confirmed that the group had entered the Tibetan Autonomous Region from the Dram border crossing, and that they would be held in Shigatse "in a building that looks like a reception center but is equipped with all the facilities of a prison inside."

The group was handed over to Chinese Embassy officials on Saturday in Nepal despite appeals by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees--prompting an outcry from Britain and the United States. The 18 Tibetans, including women and children, entered Nepal in April hoping to reach the northern Indian base of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader.

The Tibetan asylum-seekers are identified as: Thupten Tsering 18; Lobsang Tenzen, 28; Kalsang Wangdu, 19; Tashi Choedon, 19; Yonten, 17; Rinchen Dolma, 17; Lobsang Jampa, 23; Tashi, 22; Tsultrim Gyatso, 17; Tenzen Nyima, 14; Lobsang Phuntsok, 21; Yeshi, 13; Rinchen Dhondup, 14; Gelek, 30; Yeshi Wangpo, 23; Lobsang Tenpa, 23; Yeshi Sangpo, 23; and Lobsang, 25.

RFA broadcasts news and information to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia. Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo, and Kham), and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content.#####


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