The video footage, taken by a Romanian cameraman who was at advance base camp on Mount Cho Oyo at the time, depicts a line of Tibetans walking uphill through the snow on the Nangpa Pass when a shot is heard and one of the figures falls to the ground. The video clearly depicts that the Tibetans had their backs to the soldiers, were unarmed, and offered no resistance. The nun who died, Kelsang Namtso, appears to have been shot in the back.
In an unusual official account of the incident, China said that Chinese frontier soldiers tried to persuade the group of Tibetan “stowaways” to go home, but the Tibetans refused and “attacked the soldiers”, who were then “forced to defend themselves”. (People’s Daily, October 13, and Xinhua, October 12). The Chinese official account does acknowledge one death, but says that it was from altitude sickness. On the same day that the official account was released, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao denied knowledge of the incident.
Mary Beth Markey, Executive Director of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “The Chinese Xinhua statement belongs in the realm of fiction given the evidence confirmed in this powerful footage. It is deplorable that the People’s Armed Police act as if shooting Tibetans crossing into Nepal is a legitimate expression of their authority. ICT demands a full accounting by the Chinese government, and assurances of the safety of the children now apparently in the custody of the Chinese military.”
During the shooting, a mountaineer in the cameraman’s group can be heard saying: “They are shooting them like dogs.” Sergiu Matei, a cameraman from Romania who was on his first climbing trip to Cho Oyu, west of Mount Everest and near the border with Nepal, told ICT that he and his group saw the line of Tibetans snaking up the pass, and ten or more soldiers near advance base camp opening fire. “We saw one person falling down, and they didn’t get up. This must have been the nun who died. We saw another person fall down too, but later they got up – maybe this person was injured.”
Sergei Matei, who returned to Bucharest from the Himalayas yesterday, also helped a Tibetan from one of the groups escaping to Nepal across the Nangpa Pass when he found him hidden in a toilet tent at advance base camp. He said: “He was terrified and shaking. I couldn’t think of what to say so I asked him if he was going to see the Dalai Lama, and when he heard those words he put his hands together in prayer. We hid him in the mess tent for several hours and when it seemed to be safe, I took him back onto the pass.”
A Czech climbing expedition leader, who also witnessed the shooting, Josef Simunek, told ICT: “We felt as though it was 20 years ago in our country in the Communist time, when Czech soldiers killed Czech citizens in their escape over the ‘Iron Curtain’.”
- Romanian video footage, posted on Pro TV
- ICT report, Image of nun’s body in snow at Nangpa Pass
- ICT report, Tibetan children in Chinese custody after shooting at Nangpa Pass
- ICT report, Tibetan nun shot dead; other Tibetans feared killed on way to Nepal