Washington – China’s central government has ordered the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) to sack its foreign-educated Tibetan tourist guides and replace them with Chinese graduates, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports. The order affects hundreds of Tibetans educated in India or Nepal.

“This year about 160 Chinese students arrived from China in two groups, of 100 and 60,” a Tibetan source told RFA’s Tibetan service on condition of anonymity.

“Another group of 200 to 300 is expected in July and August. Some local Tibetans know English but cannot qualify for the job–the minimum qualification is a high school degree and the preferred qualification is a degree from a Chinese college or university.”

The order to replace local Tibetan guides with Chinese guides educated in China was first contained in a letter from the central government’s tourism authorities last year, sources said. Tourism authorities under the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) government followed up with a letter dated May 16, 2003. Both TAR and Chinese government officials declined to be quoted for this report.

“All Tibetans working as tourist guides who were educated in India and Nepal are being replaced by Chinese students who came from China. These Chinese students would be assigned to work as tour guides and interpreters,” one source said.

“There are still some Tibetans working as tour guides but very few in the Department of Tourism. About 60 percent of guides in the TAR–there are hundreds–are Tibetans who have returned from India and Nepal. Now all of them will be replaced by Chinese students.”

Guides previously earned 4,000 to 5,000 yuan monthly (about $500 to $600 U.S.), the sources said, with some additional income in the form of gratuities. Now, however, they are to be paid $5,000 yuan monthly.

Authorities have given no explanation for the change, sources said, although experts say the move may be aimed at limiting foreign support for and contact with Tibetans who would like greater autonomy for the region.

A ban on all tourism in Tibet, imposed to keep the deadly SARS virus from spreading there, was lifted July 1. According to China’s official Xinhua news agency, incomplete statistics show 313 domestic visitors and 588 foreign tourists have come to Tibet since July 1. Seventy-four international and 144 domestic tourist groups have registered to visit Tibet later in July, Xinhua said.