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China curbs Everest climbers 'for Olympics' (TOI)

Times of India
11 Dec, 2006

KATHMANDU: Mountaineers preferring the Tibet route to access Mt Everest because of low fees and relaxed rules face a rude jolt -- China is going to rein in climbing expeditions next spring apparently because of the 2008 Olympics.

The China Tibet Mountaineering Association in Lhasa (CTMA) says it has negotiated with the China Mountaineering Association in Beijing for limiting the number of climbers in the Everest area in spring 2007 to prepare for the 2008 Olympic Torch Race.

However, seasoned climbers and human rights activists say it is an effort by Beijing to keep negative publicity at bay, especially after the international furore over graphic reports from mountaineers of the shooting of Tibetan refugees in September that resulted in the death of a 17-year-old nun.

China plans to kick off the Olympics with a spectacular flames ceremony when the torch will be carried atop Mt Everest, the world's highest mountain at 8,848 m, before it is taken to Beijing.

The trial run of the torch ceremony on the mountain is to be held this coming spring.

China set a precedent of igniting a ceremonial flame on the highest point on earth in 1999 when the torch for a sports competition was taken atop the peak. In the rarefied atmosphere, the flame was kept alive by connecting the torch to an oxygen tank with an igniter ready to relight the flame when blasts of icy cold air snuffed it out.

According to the CTMA, costs of expeditions would be increased next year, which might make some of international expeditions return to the earlier popular route through neighbouring Nepal.

A trial run of the torch ceremony would be held coming spring and CTMA says the numbers of international expeditions would be restricted due to that.

In September, Beijing came under fire for gross human rights abuse after climbers on Mount Cho Oyu witnessed and reported the death a 17-year-old Tibetan nun gunned down by Chinese border patrols as she and a group of other Tibetans, many of them young children, were attempting to escape into neighbouring Nepal.

The footage of the shooting made several western governments register their concern.

John Ackerly, president of International Campaign for Tibet, an NGO working to protect the rights of Tibetans, said: "Climbers come into Tibet with advanced communications devices such as satellite phones and high-speed internet.

"Chinese authorities are likely to be concerned about the ability of these expeditions to record problems and communicate them to the outside world in ways that it cannot control, particularly at such a symbolic moment as the Olympics, when the prestige of the country is at stake."

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