Nepal detains 90 illegal Tibetan immigrants - police

KATHMANDU Fri Jan 13, 2012 8:02pm IST

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal has detained 90 Tibetan exiles for illegally entering the Himalayan republic, police said on Friday, in the latest crackdown on Tibetans carried out shortly before a reported visit by the Chinese premier.

Kathmandu police chief Rajendra Shrestha said the refugees were held at Thankot on the outskirts of Kathmandu late on Thursday, while they were travelling in buses coming from India.

Local media reported that Wen Jiabao would spend about five hours in Nepal on Saturday during which he is expected to meet Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai before leaving for the Middle East in the afternoon.

Beijing has released no official information about any possible visit, and Nepal government officials declined to comment on the media reports.

The premier had been scheduled to visit Nepal in December, but postponed the tour at the last minute amid speculation over security concerns and fears of Tibetan exiles organising anti-China protests. Officials said the trip was delayed due to China's "internal" reasons.

"They were detained because they failed to produce valid travel documents," Shrestha told Reuters about the Tibetan immigrants, without giving details.

Another police officer, Sudhir Raj Shahi, said all those detained were being held at a police station in the Nepali capital. "They will be freed if they produce valid travel documents. Otherwise we will hand them to the immigration department," Shahi said.

Hundreds of Tibetans fleeing their homeland arrive in Nepal every year on their way to India, where the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama lives. Nepali authorities normally hand them to the United Nations refugee agency.

Nepal, home to more than 20,000 Tibetans, is under pressure from Beijing, a key trade partner and donor, to crack down on any "anti-China" activities by the Tibetans.

Kathmandu considers Tibet a part of China and says the Tibetans are free to stay but must not engage in protests against its giant neighbour.

Two months ago a Tibetan exile set himself on fire in Nepal, in a wave of self-immolations by Tibetans, but was overpowered by others.

Beijing says the Dalai Lama is a dangerous separatist, a charge he strongly denies, insisting he seeks only genuine autonomy for Tibet through peaceful means.

(Editing by Matthias Williams and Ron Popeski)

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