Nortel protest

A Tibet protester dressed as China’s controversial new train through Tibet.

Toronto – Demonstrations will mark Nortel’s annual general meeting today as an international coalition of Tibet groups demands that Nortel Inc. withdraw from a controversial deal with the Chinese government. Nortel recently announced its intention to supply a digital wireless communications network for the Gormo-Lhasa railway, a project that forms the cornerstone of China’s efforts to tighten its control over Tibet. Tibetan rights groups have launched a campaign calling on Nortel to withdraw.

“As a former Canadian businessperson in China and having visited Tibet twice, we realize that development is much needed in Tibet in face of such widespread poverty facing Tibetans in occupied Tibet today” said Tenzin Dargyal, President of the Canada Tibet Committee. “However the Tibetan poverty problem requires a Tibetan solution. Development by businesses and governments on Tibetan land must be planned and executed by Tibetans. It cannot be imposed by Beijing to realize its self-serving interests and it must overall genuinely benefit Tibetans” .

Slated to begin test runs in 2006, the railway threatens to increase environmental pressure on Tibet’s high-altitude ecosystem, bolster China’s military strength in the region, and facilitate the entry of large numbers of Chinese settlers onto Tibetan lands, further marginalizing Tibetans socially and economically. Many Tibetans see the railway as the final phase in China’s strategy to wipe out Tibetan identity and culture.

“To Tibetans inside Tibet, the railway is a death sentence,” said Lhadon Tethong, Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet. “The Chinese government already encourages Chinese settlers to move into Tibet in order to assimilate Tibetans and eliminate their resistance to Chinese rule. The railway will increase this population transfer exponentially, posing a dire threat to Tibetans’ survival as a people.”

Tsering Tsomo, a spokesperson for the Tibetan Women’s Association and a member of Parliament of Tibet’s Government-in-Exile said “We are encouraged by the recent dialogue between Tibet and China, but contentious issues like the railway project must be raised for discussion, and the voice and fears of Tibetans for this project must be taken into account by governments and corporations.”

The coalition, made of the Canada Tibet Committee, International Campaign for Tibet, Students for a Free Tibet, Tibetan Youth Congress and the Tibetan Women’s Association first expressed its concerns to Nortel this past March. No dialogue currently exists between the Tibetans in exile and the Nortel executives, who have not responded to past efforts of communications from the Tibetan support groups.

Press release issued by the Canada Tibet Committee, Students for a Free Tibet, Tibetan Womens Association, Tibetan Youth Congress and the International Campaign for Tibet.