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2002-05-10 10:34:00
Embassy Kathmandu
Cable title:  

Tibetan Refugees Hard Hit by Maoist Insurgency

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E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Tibetan Refugees Hard Hit by Maoist Insurgency

REFS: A) Kathmandu 655, B) 01 Kathmandu 2352





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Tibetan Refugees Hard Hit by Maoist Insurgency

REFS: A) Kathmandu 655, B) 01 Kathmandu 2352

1. (SBU) Summary. Nepal's Tibetan refugee community has
been seriously affected by the violent Maoist insurgency,
most directly by a recent string of bombings at Tibetan-
owned carpet businesses and threats to Tibetan-run tourist
facilities. Tibetans have made a significant contribution
to Nepal's economy, although many of their carpet
factories - that once generated one-fifth of the country's
foreign exchange - now sit idle due to problems related to
the insurgency and a general market downturn. A Tibetan
refugee hotel owner told Poloff a tale of attempted
extortion typical of recent problems encountered by long-
term Tibetan residents in the deteriorating security
environment. In the face of these problems many Tibetans
have chosen to put their first country of asylum behind
them and take flight once more. End Summary.

Maoist Insurgency Pinches Tibetan Community

2. (U) Of the many ethnic communities in Nepal, the
Tibetan refugees have perhaps been most seriously affected
by the violent Maoist insurgency that has now spread to
all but one of the country's 75 districts. In the past
six months suspected Maoist attacks against three Tibetan-
owned carpet businesses have left the community on edge
(Reftels). The effects of the decline in tourism -
another industry with substantial Tibetan investment -
have also hit the community hard.

Tibetans and Nepal's Economy

3. (SBU) Although there has been a Tibetan community in
Nepal for millennia, the Tibetan refugee community dates
back to the 1959 flight of the Dalai Lama from Tibet.
Initially the GON allowed Tibetans to stay, but in 1989 it
reversed this policy and now no longer accept new Tibetan
refugees for resettlement. However, since 1989 the GON
has worked with UNHCR to ensure that intending refugees
from Tibet are afforded safe passage to India.

4. (U) Nepalese readily admit that the Tibetans have made

a significant contribution to Nepal's economy. Legally,
Tibetan refugees are not permitted to work in Nepal, but
in practice, the GON has long allowed them to engage in
trade and entrepreneurial activity so long as they do so
in tandem with local partners. Tibetan-owned enterprises
employ tens of thousands of people.

5. (U) The Tibetans brought the art of carpet weaving
along with them to Nepal and established the country's
first carpet factories. In recent years carpet exports
accounted for nearly twenty percent of foreign exchange
earnings. However, due to problems related both to the
insurgency and to the global economic downturn, this
figure has gone down as many Tibetan carpet businesses
have either folded or dramatically downsized.

Trouble Began Two Years Ago

6. (SBU) For nearly four decades, Tibetan refugees lived -
and for the most part thrived - as just another of the
many ethnic groups inhabiting Nepal. That began to change
in recent years as the Maoist insurgency gathered steam.
To solicit contributions, Maoists have approached Tibetan
homes, businesses - and even monasteries. Last year when
the Maoists planned a mass rally in Kathmandu, groups of
insurgents approached monasteries in the Boudha area of
the city to insist that the monks provide room and board
to Maoists who were coming to the city to join the rally.

Maoist Extortion?

7. (SBU) One businessman approached Poloff to tell a story
illustrative of the problems facing the Tibetan refugee
community as a result of growing lawlessness related to
the insurgency. The man, who operates a hotel in
Kathmandu's tourist quarter, has been in business in Nepal
for more than three decades. Life in Nepal was peaceful
and uneventful, he says, until he began to feel the pinch
of the decline in tourism and the deteriorating law-and-
order situation about two years ago.

8. (SBU) The hotelier's serious troubles began in August,
2001, when he received a letter - purportedly from the
Maoists - threatening his property and family. It said he
would be contacted by phone. Within days a call came
demanding 200,000 Nepali Rupees (NRs.), about USD 2500.
Three men came to his hotel and - after hard bargaining -
he paid 50,000 Rs. (USD 650). The men gave him a receipt
printed with Maoist slogans.

Police and Thieves

9. (SBU) The story took a disturbing turn in January 2002,
when one of the three men returned to the hotel claiming
to be a police officer. He invited the hotelier to visit
him at the official Police Club, where they sat in a small
waiting room inside the main gate. The man - who had a
pronounced scar on his cheek - explained that he was a
policeman, but also worked for the Maoists. He displayed
a letter on Home Ministry letterhead that identified the
hotelier as a Maoist contributor. If this letter is sent
to the police post in your area, the man with the scar
said, they will arrest you. He offered to exchange the
file for money: 400,000 Rs. (USD 5000). The hotelier
paid 100,000 Rs. on the spot, and arranged to meet the
next day to pay the balance.

No Such File

10. (SBU) After that encounter, the hotelier went to the
police station to report what happened. The police told
him they had no such file tagging him as a Maoist
supporter. They offered to wait for the man at the agreed-
upon meeting point and arrest him. The next day the man
called to cancel the appointment. After that, the man
would call again to schedule meetings, the hotelier would
inform the police, who would then stake out the scene.
Each time the man would fail to show. The police brought
the hotelier to see line-ups of scar-faced men. Officers
were sent to guard his hotel around the clock, but after a
month, as the hotelier prepared to leave for India one
day, the police guards left early in the morning. Within
the hour the man with the scar and two accomplices entered
the hotel and threatened to arrest the owner if he did not
pay. He left after accepting a few thousand Rupees and a
promise of more.

No Way Out

11. (SBU) Fearful for his own and his family's safety, the
hotel owner no longer travels alone or at night. He
suspects the extortionist has ties to the police - the man
used the police club as a meeting point and seemed to have
access to inside police information - and now feels he
cannot rely on the police to protect him. Even if the
extortionist were arrested, he doubts there would be
enough evidence to hold him. All he can do, he believes,
is avoid the extortionists as much as possible and push
them back with small sums and vague promises. Eventually,
he hopes, they will lose interest and leave him alone.
Until that time he lives in fear, he says.


12. (U) We have heard countless tales resembling the
hotelier's in one way or another. As a result of these
and other incidents thousands of ethnic Tibetans have left
Nepal in the past decade, fleeing increasing instability
and economic uncertainty. Many left for the U.S., Canada,
Australia or Europe. Others sought employment in Hong
Kong or Japan. Still others moved south; many of Nepal's
Tibetans were educated at the boarding schools in India's
hill stations. They are thus better prepared for life in
India than in Nepal, where many opportunities are closed
to them.

13. (U) Those who remained behind often comment,
anecdotally, on the contraction of their community.
Festivals that in previous years attracted thousands of
Tibetan worshippers now attract only hundreds. Hearing
complaints about the recent decline of Tibetan social life
in Kathmandu, Poloff asked if the ongoing Maoist
insurgency had kept people indoors at night. No, our
contacts replied, the fact is that large numbers of young
Tibetans have gone abroad and the parties have not been
the same since.


14. (SBU) Faced with an increasingly inhospitable
environment created in large part by the Maoist
insurgency, many Tibetan refugees in Nepal have elected to
pull up stakes. Most of those leaving are the children of
refugees who fled Tibet in the late 1950s, and are thus
doubly displaced. Sadly, until the recent troubles most
Tibetans in Nepal had been able to flourish both
economically and culturally. Excluded from the local
political system, they can now only watch as their
businesses come under siege and economic conditions
worsen. As shown by the case of the attempted extortion
of the Tibetan hotelier, regardless of whether Nepal's
Tibetan refugees are being victimized by the Maoists, the
Police or people purporting to be police, or merely by
opportunistic gangsters, many now live in fear. Staying
in Nepal is no longer worth the trouble and many are
choosing to shutter their businesses and leave.