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Tibetan Refugees in Nepal Face Emotional Brunt of Crackdown in Tibet


Tibetan refugees in Nepal could only look on when violent protests erupted in their homeland last month, and then were crushed by Chinese authorities. Some refugees worry that conditions will not improve in Tibet, and that growing frustration could lead to more violence. Ron Corben recently visited one Tibetan community in Nepal and has this report.

Five hundred students sing Tibet's national anthem at the Tibetan school in the Nepalese city of Pokhara.

On a day usually marked by celebration as students receive their awards, the mood is sombre. Protests in Tibet and nearby provinces in China have cast a pall over this refugee community.

Chinese officials say about 20 people died in the riots, but exiled Tibetan leaders say 150 died in the protests and the police crackdown.

Students, teachers and parents join in a chant to remember the dead.

Nepal is home to about 20,000 Tibetan refugees. Thousands each year attempt to flee Chinese rule and slip into Nepal or India.

Much of the land for this community was donated and aid agencies have built houses and schools.

Neat lines of cottages look out over a football field that in the late afternoon is shared by Tibetan and Nepalese children alike.

Refugees, many here five decades, run businesses, teach at the Tibetan school, or work in the tourism industry.

D. Wangyal was three years old when his family fled Tibet. Now an official at a camp in Pokhara, he says news of the recent violence traumatized the community.

"The current situation or crisis or the rather unpleasant development in March - it's unbelievably torturing us," he said.

China has ruled Tibet for nearly 60 years. In 1959, Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and thousands of others fled after a failed uprising. Beijing blames the Dalai Lama for the recent unrest, and accuses him and exile leaders in India of seeking to separate Tibet from China.

Communist Party officials say they freed Tibetans from what they call "the dark ages" of feudal serfdom. Since the late 1990s China has poured investment into Tibet and nearby provinces to reduce the region's poverty.

But refugees say the benefits are not being shared. Tibetans, Wangyal says, face discrimination at school and work in their homeland.

"Over the last 60 years Chinese say we are doing all our best to the minorities - including Tibet and we are spending a lot of money for the development of what? … This five-star building constructed by us, or this airstrip constructed by us, this electrical wiring… they fail to win the hearts of the Tibetan people in their policies," he said.

Refugees and rights groups allege that China has tried to crush allegiance to the Dalai Lama and dilute Tibetan culture. They accuse Beijing of detaining thousands of Tibetan dissidents.

Many exiles say Buddhist monks are discriminated against, and that China has closed many monasteries and temples in Tibet.

Some Tibetans in Nepal worry about rising frustration among younger refugees. There are fears these young adults may turn to violence to try to improve conditions in Tibet once the elderly Dalai Lama is gone.

This Buddhist lama shares that worry, but says Tibetans must protect their culture.

"Actually, this kind of protest and the violence is not needed and such things are very unnecessary but we need to protest against the Chinese, we need to fight for our rights otherwise we will not get what we want in life," he said.

Dolma Tsering is a Tibetan businesswoman and social worker in Pokhara. She hopes China and the Tibetan government in exile will talk, and conditions in Tibet will improve.

"The majority of the Tibetan who lived here, even more than 40 years, still everybody thinking that one day we definitely go back to Tibet," she said. "Everybody feels we are refugee here - not that we are citizen here - so everybody have a great hope and expectation to go back to Tibet one day."

Many refugees hold no hope that China's leaders will negotiate with the Dalai Lama to improve conditions in Tibet. Some, such as the lama, note the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan leaders long ago gave up calls for independence, yet China has not responded.

"He [Dalai Lama] has sent six or seven delegations to Beijing to find peaceful solutions to the Tibetan problem," he said. "So far there has not been any fruitful result which has compelled the Tibetan monks and Tibetan people to be very frustrated and angry over the issue."

Some say there is a groundswell of support for a referendum within the exile community to ask the Dalai Lama to end his support for China's influence over Tibet. Instead, they say, he should seek full independence. Such a move, however, others warn, could bring a harsh reaction from Beijing.

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