Ex-President Carter says China pressuring Nepal on Tibetans

KATHMANDU Mon Apr 1, 2013 11:30am EDT

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter smiles as he talks to the media during a news conference in Kathmandu April 1, 2013. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter smiles as he talks to the media during a news conference in Kathmandu April 1, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar

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KATHMANDU (Reuters) - China is putting pressure on Nepal to interrupt the flow of Tibetan refugees into the Himalayan nation, former United States President Jimmy Carter said on Monday.

Hundreds of refugees from the Chinese province of Tibet cross treacherous mountain passes to reach Nepal each year, but as the influence of China grows in its impoverished neighbor, their passage is becoming increasingly difficult.

In the past, Tibetan exiles captured by Nepali police were handed to the United Nation's High Commissioner for Refugees for their onward journey to India, where the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama lives in exile.

But the U.S. statesman said Tibetan exiles were now facing harassment at the border, and called on the government to resist pressure to impede the movement of refugees.

"My hope is that the Nepali government will not accede," he told reporters.

Sandwiched between emerging giants China and India, Nepal has been courted by both its powerful neighbors as it tries to find its feet after a decade-long civil war that ended in 2006.

Nepal is home to around 20,000 Tibetans who have fled Chinese rule in their remote region. In recent years, the Nepali government has crushed protests by Tibetans against China, the country's top donor and key trade partner.

A Tibetan exile set himself on fire and died last month while another also tried to self-immolate but was overpowered last year.

The former president, whose Carter Center observed Nepal's last elections in 2008, arrived last week to encourage political parties to conduct delayed national elections and to push forward a peace process following the war. Carter said his organization would again observe the polls expected this year.

Last month, political parties appointed the chief justice as the head of a caretaker government to hold elections in June after they failed to agree on a politician for the job.

"I think it will not be possible to hold elections in June because a lot of things have to be done before the election," Carter, 88, told Reuters after a meeting with the head of the interim government, election commission and political party leaders.

Nepal needs to update the voters' list and amend several election related laws. Officials say this could take time as the government needs to hold talks with small political parties that are disrupting the collection of the voters' rolls.

Carter said next window for the polls was November after the end of the annual monsoon rains.

The election will produce a special Constituent Assembly tasked to draft Nepal's first constitution after the abolition of the monarchy. The previous assembly was dissolved last year without completing the work.

Carter, who travels widely to conduct peace negotiations, is scheduled to leave for Myanmar on Tuesday on a visit amid concerns over rising religious violence there.

(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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