KATHMANDU—Chinese border forces opened fire in a bid to halt the flight of 51 Tibetan asylum-seekers into Nepal, witnesses have told Radio Free Asia (RFA). All but three were taken into custody and their whereabouts remain unknown.
“There were about 30 Chinese soldiers who started firing from surrounding hills and the valley. The firing went on for quite some time,” one of the group told RFA's Tibetan service on condition that he not be named.
“I couldn't tell if anybody was hurt in the firing. There were some Tibetans in the Chinese forces too. They spoke in Tibetan and threatened us in Tibetan that we would be killed if we escaped.”
Only three of us managed to escape and reach Nepal. The area where we were surrounded by 30 Chinese border forces had no rocks or forest to hide—the whole area was grassland. It was very difficult to hide.
The border forces, according to eyewitness reports, then surrounded and detained 48 of the group on Aug. 26 in a hilly region close to the Nepal border in Dhingri (in Chinese, Dhingri Xian), in Shigatse Prefecture of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).
Three managed to escape through the Nepali region of Solukhumbu, the witnesses said.
The group—comprising 51 people of different ages, hometowns, and occupations—set out on July 12 from the TAR capital, Lhasa.
In separate interviews, officials who asked not to be named said the 48 detainees were scheduled for arrival in Shigatse but hadn't yet arrived. “I was told that they would arrive in Shigatse today [Sept. 21], but I don't know if they are here yet.”
Another official said members of the group cited different reasons for fleeing.
“Many said that they were not given proper religious teachings, some cited poor educational opportunities, and some give poor living conditions as reason for escape. Once they arrive here they will be interrogated, and their respective townships [will be] contacted. The cases of children will be referred to the education officials,” he said.
Twenty-four members of the group were from Bri-ru (Biru Xian) in the TAR's Nagchu Prefecture, along with others from the Kham and Amdo regions.
The group also included six children aged between 10 to 11, two nuns, and one monk.
“Only three of us managed to escape and reach Nepal,” a member of the group said. “The area where we were surrounded by 30 Chinese border forces had no rocks or forest to hide—the whole area was grassland. It was very difficult to hide.”
Three of the group were picked up by United Nations refuge workers from one of Solukhumbu's airstrips and transported to Kathmandu, sources said.
Chinese authorities are checking for unauthorized crossings at the border town of Dram, the sources said, and those without proper identity papers are being arrested.
Original reporting by RFA's Tibetan service staf in Washington and Asia. Editor: Karma Dorjee. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han and edited by Luisetta Mudie.