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Page last updated at 06:31 GMT, Friday, 25 April 2008 07:31 UK

Nepal torch security 'too harsh'

Ngawang Tenzin Jangpo
Ngawang Tenzin Jangpo is a revered figure of Tibetan Buddhism

A religious leader in Nepal's Everest region has criticised security measures ahead of the Olympic torch's arrival on top of the world's highest mountain.

Ngawang Tenzin Jangpo told the BBC that the government had gone too far in the precautions it was taking before the torch arrives at the summit.

Nepal says it will use force to prevent anti-Beijing protests during the Olympic torch relay up Mount Everest.

The torch is scheduled to be brought up from the Chinese side in early May.

Nepal is determined to prevent protests which may damage relations with China.

Ngawang Tenzin Jangpo, the Rinpoche or Reincarnate, of Tengboche Monastery, is the man from whom Nepalese and foreign climbers of mountains in the region traditionally seek a Buddhist blessing.

'Talking about guns'

He told the BBC's Charles Haviland that the Everest region was a "zone of peace" and that he was surprised by government moves to send security personnel into the region with arms for the torch relay.

"The home ministry has sent a huge number of army and police with guns and has also given them permission to open fire," he said.

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"So in this country of peace, which has the world's highest peak, the home ministry is talking about guns. I am surprised to hear that. I am so sad."

Ngawang Tenzin Jangpo said he was "very worried " about the development.

"It may be that the Chinese government has put pressure on our one to use guns. Or it may be that our own government, our own country, wants to use them."

Nepal says the increased security measures on the mountain, including baggage searches, are necessary. On Wednesday an American man was sent down from base camp after being discovered with a pro-Tibet flag which insulted China.

Such items have been banned from the Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park.

'UN should monitor'

Nepal has also brought in rules to stop summiteers carrying items such cameras and other electronic devices beyond base camp before 10 May.

Tibetan nuns scuffle with Nepali police in Kathmandu on Thursday
Nepali police have been quick to quash anti-China protests

Ngawang Tenzin Jangpo said it was highly unlikely that pro-Tibet protesters would reach the top of the mountain.

"I think it would be better that the United Nations should look after this issue, should monitor the Everest region, if there's any threat of shooting and disharmony," he said.

The Olympic torch is not being taken anywhere near the Nepalese base camp.

But Nepal's military and police have been deployed in extra numbers on the southern flank of the mountain because of sensitivities over the torch. Nepal does not want to alienate China, one of its two neighbours and a country it depends on for foreign aid and diplomatic support, our correspondent says.




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