Friday, March 21, 2008

Tibetans off to Nathu-la

The Tibetan marchers in Salugara. Telegraph picture.

March 20: Around 300 Tibetans from Salugara today set off on foot for Nathu-la on the India-China border to protest against “Chinese aggression” in Lhasa, but the Sikkim government said they might not be allowed to enter the state.

Nathu-la, a mountain pass at 14,400ft connecting India and China, is located in North Sikkim.

Ugyen Tsewang, the secretary of the Northeast Tibetan Youth Congress, said theirs was a non-confrontational peace march. “Our intention is to march ahead and express solidarity with all Tibetans protesting against the brutal Chinese aggression and killings at Lhasa,” he said.

The marchers started off from Salugara at 2pm, armed with Tibetan and Indian flags and posters and banners in support of Free Tibet.

However, in Sikkim, the principal secretary of the state home department, Jasbir Singh, said the protesters might not be allowed entry.

“We cannot stop them from entering the state if they have the necessary documents, but we will first have to find out what their intention is,” the principal secretary said.

Although Singh did not elaborate, “documents” could mean proof of Indian citizenship, or special permits that foreign nationals require to enter Sikkim (inner-line permit issued by the state government) or to go to Nathu-la (restricted area permit issued by the Centre). Most third-generation exiled Tibetans are Indians by birth.

The marchers from Salugara claimed that they have a no-objection certificate from the Bhaktinagar police, indicating that their march is non-violent.

“We will not go in for any confrontation and decide on other democratic forms of protests (if we are stopped). We may resort to hunger strike at the point where we are detained,” said Ugyen.

There is a substantial Tibetan population in Sikkim as well. A source in the Sikkim police said vigil has been increased at all checkposts on way to Nathu-la. Travel agents and taxi drivers have also been told not to entertain requests from Tibetans for trips to Nathu-la.

The police are also keeping a lookout for protest material among Tibetans living in the Sherathang and Kupup areas.

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