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Cho Oyu, Shooting of Tibetean Refugees

Cho Oyu, shooting of Tibetan refugees. When shots rang out near Cho Oyu's crowded advance base camp on September 30, climbers ventured out to see what was going on. A professional photographer from Romania, Sergiu Matei, took his camera and was in time to film a queue of Tibetans snaking up the trail to the Nangpa La, the high pass into Nepal used every year by hundreds of Tibetans fleeing their homeland to join the Dalai Lama in India. His pictures show a line of unarmed Tibetans trudging uphill. Then a shot is heard, and a figure falls to the ground. Behind them can be seen Chinese border police, who had fired at their retreating backs. The figure was a 17-year-old nun, Kelsang Namtso, who had put up no resistance and died where she lay in the snow.

The first official Chinese account said the Tibetans had attacked the armed police, who were then forced to defend themselves. Later, her death was officially attributed to altitude sickness. A Czech expedition leader, Josef Simunek, who witnessed the shooting, told a pro-Tibetan organization based in Washington, “We felt as though it was 20 years ago during communist times in our country, when Czech soldiers killed Czech citizens in their escape over the Iron Curtain.”

Elizabeth Hawley, AAC Honorary Member, Nepal