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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 May, 2003, 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK
Nepal deports 18 Tibetans
Dalai Lama
Many Tibetans flee to India, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile
Nepal has deported 18 Tibetan refugees back to China, in what is being seen as a departure from recent government policy.

Tibetan refugee officials in Kathmandu said it was the first such deportation in recent years and described it as outrageous.

Hundreds of Tibetans cross into Nepal every year on their way to India, where their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has lived since fleeing Tibet more than 40 years ago.

Nepal usually hands them over to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), which resettles them in India.

The Nepalese authorities have not commented on the decision, but correspondents say it may be in response to increased pressure from China.

'Chinese demands'

Wangchuk Chhiring, from the Tibetan welfare centre in Kathmandu, told the BBC that three women were among the 18 people deported.

They are reported to have been in police detention in Kathmandu since last month, after they crossed over Nepal's north-eastern border.

They were arrested on charges of travelling without valid documents.

Activists said the group was about to be released after their fines had been paid by representatives of the Dalai Lama and others, but China had demanded their deportation, the Associated Press reports.

Tibetans are normally kept in a transit camp in Kathmandu pending interview by the UNHCR, which facilitates their travel to India.

Mr Chhiring said UN officials had not been allowed to speak to the Tibetans.

About 20,000 Tibetans have been living in Nepal for the past 40 years. They are not allowed to undertake political activities.

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