Nangpa La shooting incident

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Nangpa La shooting incident
Nangpa La killings 1.jpg
Some of the captured survivors with Chinese border guards at the advanced base camp in Cho Oyu.
Time 10:30 AM
Date September 30, 2006
Location Nangpa La, Tibet, China
Coordinates 28°6′27.8″N 86°35′17.5″E / 28.107722°N 86.588194°E / 28.107722; 86.588194Coordinates: 28°6′27.8″N 86°35′17.5″E / 28.107722°N 86.588194°E / 28.107722; 86.588194
Type Shooting of civilian by border guard
First reporter
Deaths 1 (Kelsang Namtso)
Non-fatal injuries A few (unknown number)
Arrest(s) 32

The Nangpa La shooting incident happened on September 30, 2006 when a group of unarmed Tibetan refugees attempted to flee Tibet via the Nangpa La pass. They were fired upon by Chinese border guards.[1] Kelsang Namtso, a 17-year-old nun, was killed and a number were injured.[1] Of the Tibetan group, 41 reached India, but 32 were taken into custody by Chinese border guards — most were later released, but some are still unaccounted for. Some of those released claimed they have suffered torture and hard labor.[1][2] Nangpa La is a traditional trade route between Tibet and Nepal. The victims were shot from a distance by border guards as they moved slowly through chest-deep snow. The Chinese government initially denied the charges, but Kelsang's death was filmed by Romanian photographer Sergiu Matei, who was nearby as part of a climbing expedition.[3][4] After Matei smuggled the video out of Tibet, it became headline news around the world, drawing attention to the plight of Tibetans under Chinese rule/occupation.

The incident[edit]

The shooting incident[edit]

On September 30, 2006, a group of 75 Tibetans, including some children, embarked on an overland boarder-crossing trip to join the Dalai Lama in exile in Dharamsala, India. They were accompanied by 2 guides. Chinese border guards of the People's Armed Police opened fire on the group and killed Kelsang Namtso, a 17-year-old nun. Kunsang Namgyal, a 23-year-old man, was hit in the leg twice, then taken away by the Chinese border guard. Even though the group was not armed, the Chinese initially claimed that their soldiers fired in self-defense.[citation needed] Forty-one of the 75 refugees and 2 guides reached the Tibetan Refugee Transit Center in Kathmandu, Nepal.[5] Two weeks later they arrived at their destination in Dharamsala, India.[4]

Nangpa La Pass is a common trade route between Tibet and the Khumbu region of Nepal. It is visible from the nearby Cho Oyu mountain and its mountaineering base camps. It is located about 30 km northwest of Mount Everest. Dozens of foreign mountaineers who were present that morning on Cho Oyu witnessed the incident. At least two tried to contact the outside world as soon as they could despite an atmosphere of "intimidation"[citation needed] to remain quiet. The first news report to the outside world appeared on ExplorersWeb.[citation needed] Some of the foreign climbers eventually released photographs, and most significantly, film of the incident by Romanian Sergiu Matei, a cameraman at Pro TV, was smuggled out of the country. Sergiu Matei also helped a Tibetan pilgrim hide, fed him and gave him clothes for about 10 hours before he successfully crossed the border into Nepal.[1] The mountaineers were able to produce numerous images and videos of the incident, including images of Chinese soldiers escorting the survivors through advanced base camp at Cho Oyu, and footage of People's Armed Police personnel shooting the refuges from great distance. There were rumors of seven more refugees killed execution style, but this later proved false[citation needed]. In total, only one person, Kelsang Namtso, was killed during the incident; however, there were a number of injured.[1]


Following the arrival in India of the survivors of the shootings of September 30, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) held a press conference at the Press Club of India (PCI), New Delhi, on 23 October 2006. Reportedly the following media attended: Reuters, AFP, AP, Sydney Morning Herald, CNN-IBN, Infocell, Deutsche Welle, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Societe Radio-Canada, Swedish Radio, Press Trust of India, Pio TV, CBS News, Radio Free Asia, Voice of Tibet, Phayul and other media representatives. At the press conference one of the refugees said his reason for escaping from Tibet was to see, and receive blessings from, the Dalai Lama.[6]

Kelsang Namtso lying in the snow after being shot and killed.

It was confirmed, on October 23, 2006, by Chinese authorities that one person - Kelsang Namtso, a 17-year-old Buddhist nun - was killed immediately during the September 30 shooting. China had earlier stated one of those captured on Nangpa La died in hospital later from "a lack of oxygen", but after the video footage taken by western climbers was released, they changed the story to reflect the real case - she had been killed by gunfire. International law requires that the use of firearms by border patrols take place only as a last resort, and when life is at risk. In accordance with eyewitness statements, editors and politicians in many countries found this was not apparent in the video footage. The incident received global media attention concerning the issues of the Chinese occupation of Tibet and human rights violations in Tibet. It also received serious attention from a growing number of governments worldwide. On November 30, 2006 at the meeting of the "UN Human Rights Council in Geneva" (Switzerland) 16 NGOs in a joint statement questioned the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the steps taken concerning the 30 September killing of a Tibetan in the Nangpa Pass. However, the High Commissioner did not respond to questions posed about the Nangpa Pass killing.[6]

Missing persons[edit]

Chinese authorities have not released information concerning the following 18 people, who were alleged[by whom?] missing. Jamyang Samten, age 14, did eventually leave Tibet. If his story is any indication[peacock term], first time offenders could be released, but not before suffering torture, deprivation and hard labor.[1][7] The names were collated and forwarded (via email) by Students For A Free Tibet.

  • Tenwang, age 7
  • Lhakpa Tsering, age 8
  • Dhondup Lhamo, age 9
  • Dechen Dolma, age 10
  • Wangchen, age 11
  • Tsedon, age 12
  • Sonam Wangdue, age 12
  • Ming Shomo, age 13
  • Lodoe Nyima, age 15
  • Jamyang Samten, age 14 - after capture, Jamyang spent a few weeks in prison while being tortured. He was then moved with many others to a work camp and experienced hard labor for a few months. Since it was his first offense he was then released. Jamyang then immediately tried to escape Tibet again, and succeeded this time. He now resides in India.[1]
  • Karma Tsetan, age 16
  • Lodoe Namkha, age 16
  • Karma, age 19
  • Samten, age 19
  • Sonam Palzom, age 20
  • Dhondup Palden, age 21
  • Kusang, age 22
  • Lobsang Paljor, age 35

Of the original 75 refugees who attempted to cross the border on September 30, 2006, 17 remain unaccounted for, either because the Chinese government would punish them if they spoke out or may have died during arrest, torture and detention. Since 42 refugees arrived safely in Nepal—including Jamyang Samten—and Kelsang Namtso was the one confirmed casualty, the remaining 15 were most likely the children who were detained for a short time and then released.[8]

Portrayal in the arts[edit]

A documentary called Tibet: Murder in the Snow, based on this incident, was released in 2008 by 360 Degree Films, an Australian production company, working in collaboration with the BBC.[9]

English journalist Jonathan Green's 2010 book is Murder in the High Himalayas,[1] about the Nangpa La shootings. It is based on his earlier article in Men's Journal called "Murder at 19,000 Feet"[10] which has been optioned by Vigorous Pictures to be made into a film of the same name, directed by Jake Scott.[11][12]


  • September 30 - Shooting occurs at 10:30 a.m. local time
  • October 2 - First reports of shooting appear on; source is a western expedition guide
  • October 4 - Major international news agencies start publishing
  • October 9 - Survivors reach Nepali capital Kathmandu and are granted refugee status by the UNHCR centre in the city
  • October 10 - Romanian mountaineers Alex Găvan and Sergiu Matei give first eyewitness account of shooting to . Initially they made a live broadcast from Cho Oyu's Advanced Base Camp with Romanian radio ProFM and published their dispatch on Găvan's website of the expedition at
  • October 10 - British police officer Steve Lawes is interviewed by the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu
  • October 11 - Cho Oyu mountaineering expeditions have returned to Nepal and the British "The Independent" reports Chinese diplomats in the Nepalese capital are tracking down and trying to silence Western climbers and Sherpas who witnessed the killing of Tibetan refugees on Nangpa La the week before; as a result, several of the foreign climbers leave the country a.s.a.p.
  • October 11 - Slovenian climber Pavle Kozjek contacts with first pictures of the incident
  • October 12 - U.S. Ambassador to China, Clark T. Randt, personally lodges a formal protest on behalf of the US Government against China's treatment of the refugees, during his visit to the Foreign Ministry in Beijing
  • October 12 - The humanitarian mountaineer who first reported the shooting by Chinese Border Security Soldiers visits the Tibetan Refugee Transit Center in Kathmandu; he meets with some of those who escaped the shooting and talks with them
  • October 12 - The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, reports that soldiers were "forced to defend themselves" when people trying to cross the border attacked the soldiers (by throwing stones at them)
  • October 13 - releases first video of the incident: "There is no excuse, China: Nangpa La VIDEO shows border guards sharpshoot refugees"
  • October 14 - Sergiu Matei is interviewed by Romanian TV channel ProTV and footage of incident is shown
  • October 16 - UNPO, the organisation for UNrepresented Nations and Peoples, issues its first appeal following "the extrajudicial killings by Chinese soldiers"
  • October 17 - begins search for further witnesses to the shooting
  • October 17 - says a cloud hangs over climbing and calls for opinions from mountaineers: "what should be done?"
  • October 18 - International Campaign for Tibet receives new photos of the shooting from a British climber
  • October 19 - The Tibetan Parliament-in-exile urges UNHCR High Commissioner to take note of Nangpa-La pass shooting
  • October 21 - The survivors who reached Kathmandu move onto Dharamsala in India, the home of the Tibetan government in exile and the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama
  • October 23 - Chinese authorities confirm a second person - Kelsang Nortso, a 25-year-old Buddhist nun - was killed immediately during the original incident
  • October 24 - Three survivors - Thupten Tsering, (a 23-year-old Tibetan monk), Dolma Palkyi (a 16-year-old girl) and Lobsang Choeden (26) - hold a press conference in New Delhi
  • October 25 - ITSN Olympics campaign working group launches an email protest, targeting IOC President Jacques Rogge and Chinese President Hu Jintao
  • October 26 - Human Rights Watch calls for an independent investigation into the shooting
  • October 26 - Radio Free Asia reports China detained 3 mountain guides and over 50 Tibetan refugees in the aftermath of the Nangpa La shooting incident, with fear reigning in Lhasa
  • October 26 - EU Parliament: Joint Motion For A Resolution On Tibet; Voting 66 For, 0 Abstentions, 0 Against
  • October - By the end of October (political) protests, protest demonstrations, protest gatherings and/or e-mail campaigns to condemn the Nangpa La killings, and prayers for the victims, have taken place in (several) cities in Nepal, India, the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, The Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Italy, France, Germany (the list not yet being complete)
  • October 31 - The Epoch Times publishes a long interview with another eyewitness: a surgeon from Denmark
  • November 30 - Human Rights Watch publishes an interview with two survivors of the Nangpa Pass shooting
  • November 30 - As the UN Human Rights Council began its 3rd session in Geneva (Switzerland), 16 NGOs in a joint statement questioned the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the steps taken concerning the 30 September killings of Tibetans on the Nangpa Pass
  • December 10 - the 58th International Human Rights Day, with human rights rallies taking place in many countries, including attention for the Nangpa La killings

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Jonathan Green. Murder in the High Himalaya. 2010. ISBN 978-1-58648-714-0
  2. ^ Tibetan teen says he fled China captors. Retrieved 10 April 2010.
  3. ^ China draws a veil across the mountains The Guardian 27 Oct. 2006
  4. ^ a b Death on Tibetans' long walk to freedom The Guardian 30 Oct. 2006
  5. ^ Nangpa La Shooting – an eyewitness account. Retrieved 10 April 2010.
  6. ^ a b Human Rights Watch to China: Permit Independent Investigation into Shooting of Tibetan Refugees HRW, 27 Oct. 2006
  7. ^ Jamyang Samten. Retrieved 10 April 2010.
  8. ^ Remembering the Nangpa La Shootings. Francesca Eldridge, Retrieved 10 April 2010. Ed note: As this citation is currently unavailable, there is an alternate source of this article, at Scoop Independent News. Retrieved 7 Nov 2010.
  9. ^ Tibet: Murder in the Snow. 360 Degree Films. Retrieved 10 April 2010.
  10. ^ Jonathan Green. "Murder at 19,000 Feet", Men's Journal, November 2007
  11. ^ "Vigorous options book pair", Variety, Dec 14, 2009
  12. ^ Murder at 19,000 Feet, at IMDB
Further reading

External links[edit]