BEIJING - Chinese troops fired on about 70 people near the country's mountain frontier with Nepal, and one of them died, Chinese state media said on Thursday, partly confirming earlier reports but defending the shooting.
The official Xinhua news agency said the people were attempting to cross illegally from Tibet into Nepal on Sept. 30 when a squad of Chinese border guards discovered them.
The troops tried to persuade the people to return home, but they "refused and attacked the soldiers", the report said.
"The frontier soldiers were forced to defend themselves and injured two," the report said, citing an unnamed Chinese official.
One of the injured died later in hospital "due to oxygen shortage", the report said. Another was in hospital. Xinhua did not say whether the civilians carried guns or other weapons.
This first official Chinese confirmation of the border incident appeared hours after a Foreign Ministry spokesman said he could not verify foreign news reports of a border incident in the Himalayas.
"I've seen the reports about this, but I've no knowledge of the specific situation," ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference in Beijing.
Three climbers from Britain and Australia told Reuters on Tuesday that on Sept. 30 they watched Chinese border guards aim their guns at a group of about 20 or 30 people as they prepared to cross an icy pass from Chinese territory into Nepal.
Overseas Tibetan refugee groups, as well as the London-based International Campaign for Tibet, said a young Tibetan nun was killed in the incident, and a young boy may also have died.
Liu, the spokesman, said it was up to China's border security forces to decide when to fire their guns, and Xinhua said the people were illegal border-crossers.
"Further investigations into the case are under way," it said. After the shooting, three soldiers escorted away at least 10 Tibetan children, aged between six and 12, and took them to a nearby Chinese camp, the Britain climber said.
Hundreds of Tibetans cross the Himalayas to Nepal every year, many making their way to a northern town in India, where their exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, has been living since 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule.
Nepal is home to more than 20,000 Tibetan refugees, but recent arrivals have not been allowed to stay and have had to travel on to neighbouring India.
Communist troops entered Tibet in 1950 and overthrew the Buddhist administration. Since then, China has dealt harshly with Tibetans pressing for political and religious autonomy.