By ASHWINI BHATIA
DHARMSALA, India - Nearly three dozen Tibetans captured by Chinese troops as they tried to sneak out of their homeland were tortured with cattle prods and forced into hard labor, a teenager who identified himself as one of the former detainees said Tuesday, in the first reported account of the fate of the group.
Jamyang Samten, 15, said he was one of 75 Tibetans who were making their way over a 19,000-foot-high Himalayan pass on Sept. 30 when Chinese border guards opened fire, killing a 25-year-old Buddhist nun and another person.
The incident was filmed by a mountaineering expedition and broadcast by a Romanian television station, prompting an international outcry.
Forty-one refugees managed to reach India, but 32 others were caught and detained. While Samten said some of those detained have since been released, he is the only member of the group known to have again tried to flee and made it.
Samten's account of his detention and flight, told to The Associated Press at a center for Tibetan refugees in Dharmsala, the home of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was the first report of the fate of those captured in September.
His account, nearly impossible to verify, echoed stories that have long filtered out of isolated Tibet, where each year thousands who are unable to get passports attempt to flee Chinese rule, trekking over the Himalayas to Nepal and then India.
Chinese officials in Beijing did not respond to Samten's allegations late Tuesday.
In Dharmsala, the director of the Tibetan Reception Center, Dorjee, said Samten arrived Monday after escaping from Tibet through Nepal following his release.
"He was part of the group trying to cross the Nanpa La Pass in September. He was arrested by the Chinese and taken back to Tibet and he is lucky to escape this time," said Dorjee, who uses one name. He added that Samten would soon meet the Dalai Lama, who is currently visiting Mumbai.
Samten told the AP that his group of 32 - all under 20 years old - was traveling behind the first group when Chinese border guards opened fire. Their guide told them to hide behind boulders and wait while he investigated.
He never returned, Samten said, and the group waited for three days in the snowy peaks until their food ran out and they made another go at the pass.
"As we went across, the Chinese guards started shooting near us to frighten us," he said. They surrendered, were arrested and thrown into a truck, he said.
Inside there was the body of a dead nun and a wounded man who had rags tied around a bullet wound in his leg, Samten said.
Shortly after the shooting, the Chinese government, in a statement that appeared to describe the same incident, said its border forces killed one person when they clashed with some 70 people trying to leave the country illegally. It said a second person died later. But it said Chinese forces were attacked and acted in self-defense.
Samten said his group was taken from an army camp to a police station four hours away. There they were questioned over a three-day period during which they were repeatedly hit with an electric cattle prod, he said.
"It went on until I fainted," said Samten, adding that police repeatedly asked him to identify the dead nun.
Seven members of the group who were under 15 years old - including a 4-year-old child - were not questioned, he said.
After three days, they were taken by truck to a prison in Shigatse, Tibet's second-largest city, Samten said.
They were questioned again while chained to a wall, he said. "A guard wearing a metal glove would hit us in the stomach," Samten said.
They were held there for 48 days during which they dug ditches, built fences and tilled fields, he said.
Samten said he was released alone but had heard from other Tibetans that the others were freed a day later.
After being turned over to members of his family by Chinese authorities he tried to escape Tibet again, this time successfully, paying two Nepalese men to smuggle him and two others over the border, he said.
From Nepal he made his way to India, which has become a center for Tibetan exiles since the Dalai Lama fled there in 1959 after a failed uprising against China, settling in the northern town of Dharmsala.
Many Tibetans say China, which sent its troops into the Himalayan area in 1950, has attempted to destroy Tibetan Buddhist culture by flooding Tibet with China's ethnic Han majority.
China says Tibet has been part of China for centuries.