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China restricts foreigners from visiting Tibet

Days after two Tibetans self-immolated in the heart of Lhasa, capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), it was learnt that Chinese authorities have alerted travel agencies that foreigners will not be issued to permits to visit the region.

world Updated: Jun 09, 2012 01:01 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Days after two Tibetans self-immolated in the heart of Lhasa, capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), it was learnt that Chinese authorities have alerted travel agencies that foreigners will not be issued to permits to visit the region.

Reports said travel agencies were alerted earlier this week about the latest restriction; it wasn’t immediately known how long the restriction will be in place but it is likely to impact tourism as it goes into peak season till October.

In what could be a related case, hundreds of Indian pilgrims on their arduous journey to Kailash-Manasarover were stranded in Nepal after Chinese authorities said the group didn’t have the required travel permits.

A PTI report from Kathmandu on Thursday quoted an immigration official as saying: “We have got the information that hundreds of Indian tourists coming to Nepal on their way to Mansarovar have been stopped at the Tibetan border by the Chinese authorities.”

The report added that travel and hoteliers dealing with the Indian tourists here said that the Chinese have “actually restricted the entry of tourists recently as a precautionary measure against the possible infiltration by pro-Dalai Lama Tibetan activists.”

Entry to Tibet is frequently restricted for foreigners; the excuse often given is inclement weather. Journalists though require a mandatory permit from the Chinese government to enter TAR.

In May, Chinese authorities apparently restricted entry into Tibet to groups of 5 or more and everyone had to be of the same nationality and traveling on the same itinerary.

Since March last year, more than 30 cases of self-immolations have been reported from TAR and surrounding areas where large number of ethnic Tibetans resides.

According to a report from China’s official news agency, Xinhua, Tibet received 1.45 million tourists in the first five months of the year, showing an increase of 25.7% year on year, local tourism authorities said Wednesday.

“Of the total number of tourists, 1.42 million were domestic tourists, the regional tourism bureau said in a statement. In May, the southwestern autonomous region received 900,000 tourists, as it entered the annual peak travel season that lasts until October, it said.

The plateau region earned nearly 1.5 billion Yuan ($237 million) in tourism revenue in the five months, it added,” the Xinhua report said.

It added that Tibet expected 10 million tourist arrivals and 12 billion Yuan in tourism revenue this year. But with the new restrictions, that could well be a difficult goal to achieve.