Nepal's new multi-party government, which came to power pledging to improve the kingdom's tarnished human rights record, has handed over a Tibetan refugee to China, reviving memories of a similar incident in 2003 that triggered condemnation worldwide.
As China began wooing the eight-party government of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala with the offer of increased economic assistance and a line of credit worth billions, Nepal secretly handed over to the Chinese authorities a young Tibetan refugee who had been living in exile in India, in apparent contravention of international refugee law.
Tsering Wangchen, a 25-year-old from Amdo province of Tibet, managed to escape to India via Nepal in February 2006. However, luck deserted him when he tried to return to Tibet the same year following the same route.
Wangchen was arrested in Nepal under suspicion of theft and fined Nepali R.10, 000 ($150).
As Wangchen couldn't pay the fine, he was jailed. When the jail term was over, he was handed over to the immigration authorities. When they found he did not have legal papers, he was further fined Rs 17,000. He was again jailed when he did not have the money.
Though a relative finally paid the fine, Nepal's home ministry handed Wangchen over to Chinese officials and police on the Friendship Bridge, which marks the border between Nepal and Tibet, on July 16.
The incident, conducted clandestinely, came to light after the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) released a letter by Nepal's home ministry late on Friday.
The letter, from the immigration department of the home ministry, to the Tatopani immigration office in Sindupalchok district of Nepal near the border, says: "The decision has been reached that Tsering Wangchen, an ethnic Tibetan, should be deported from Nepal and not allowed to enter Nepal for three years... he must be deported from the Tatopani border from Nepal on July 16, 2007."
ICT said eyewitnesses informed it that Wangchen initially refused to get into the immigration department's vehicle (to take him to the border) because he sensed he was going to be deported to China.
However, he was lulled by assurances by the immigration officers who told him that he would be sent to India.
Nepal's immigration officials also reportedly deceived the Tibetan Refugee Reception Center in Kathmandu, which protects the welfare of Tibetans in transit to India, with assurances that Wangchen would be released into their care.
In May 31, 2003, Nepal had similarly deported 18 Tibetan refugees, including 10 children, to China when Kathmandu was close to Beijing due to the influence exerted by King Gyanendra.
China supported the king's coup in 2005 after he had influenced the Nepal government to shut down the office of the representative of the Dalai Lama in Kathmandu.
The deportation triggered widespread condemnation, and the US Congress withdrew a bill that would have given Nepal duty-free and quota-free access to US markets for two years.
Though King Gyanendra's regime collapsed last year, the new government that came to power continues to cosy up to China, overlooking Beijing's sale of arms to the royal regime to prop it up.
Last month, after a Chinese assistant minister visited Nepal and promised economic assistance, Nepal publicly condemned Taiwan's bid to join the UN, saying Taiwan was a part of China and such a move would create instability in the region.