China and Nepal to close Everest routes
By Somini Sengupta
Friday, March 14, 2008
NEW DELHI: There are two routes to the world's highest peak, and both are scheduled to be off-limits to mountaineers this spring, as Beijing strives to inaugurate this summer's Olympic Games free of pro-Tibetan protests.
Beijing announced this past week that the route to the summit along the north face of the mountain, in Chinese-controlled Tibet, would be closed. Now, Nepal has decided that at least between May 1 and 10, when China has said it plans to carry up the Olympic torch, no one will be allowed to scale the summit along the south face, which is in Nepal.
The Nepalese tourism minister, Subba Gurung, confirmed in a telephone interview Friday that the Chinese government had appealed to his administration to help prevent disruptions to the Olympic torch ceremony.
"Expedition teams will not be allowed to ascend Mount Everest from the Base Camp," on the Nepalese side, he said. "They are requesting us, the government of Nepal, to be very careful on this side," he said of the Beijing authorities.
He went on to say that his ministry had also pressed tour operators to be extra vigilant of teams scheduled to climb the mountain before May 1, allowing only climbers who are known to the operators.
Nepal's decision underscores its vulnerability to pressure from its large and powerful neighbor to the north, even if it involves forsaking lucrative earnings from expedition permits. The tourism industry is among Nepal's most important sources of revenue, and permits to scale Mount Everest alone brought in $4 million into government coffers last year, a significant amount for what is one of the poorest countries in Asia.
Nepal shares a long border with Tibet and its long cordial relations with the Chinese government have only warmed up since King Gyanendra ceded power to an elected Parliament two years ago.
China's plans to have the Olympic torch carried into Tibet over Mount Everest have drawn protests from groups that advocate greater autonomy for Tibet as well as from monks in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. In India, Tibetan exiles were arrested as they set off on foot from Dharamsala, in north India, en route to Lhasa. They have since begun a hunger strike, vowing to continue until they are released.http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/03/14/asia/nepal.php