KATHMANDU, January 28 - The head of the Dalai Lama's office and Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office here has told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that Chinese pressure prompted Nepal to close them down, citing an explicit order to avoid working against Chinese interests.
"There is 100 percent Chinese pressure," Wangchuk Tsering told RFA’s Tibetan service. "Any Tibetan office or any activity in the name of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is not liked by the Chinese. We clearly know for sure that the Chinese are exercising pressure on the Nepalese government."
"The Nepalese government told me that I should not be involved in any activity in the name of His Holiness the Dalai Lama which they recognize as a political activity against Chinese interests. They warned that if I do, I will be in trouble. This is clearly the result of Chinese government pressure," he said.
"On Jan 21, we were served a notice by the District Officer of Kathmandu stating that our offices were not legally registered. Therefore we should close the offices and cease work immediately," Wangchuk Tsering said. "We were also order to report our compliance to the District Officer."
"It was not easy to close the offices and cease all work after we have been in existence for so many years. The Nepalese government is fully aware of our existence. It is true that the offices were unregistered because we as refugees have no right to register in Nepal. It was not that we did not intend or not try to register. We could not do it," he said.
In a statement, the U.S. State Department said the American ambassador in Nepal, James Moriarty, had "expressed our strong concern to Nepalese officials that operations allowing the entry and transit of Tibetan refugees through Nepal be allowed to continue."
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca has meanwhile made the same points to Nepal's ambassador in Washington, spokesman Curtis Cooper said, adding that "Nepalese officials have told us that these changes will not affect the welfare of Tibetan refugees living in or moving through Nepal."
The Nepalese Embassy in Washington declined to comment.
Authorities in Nepal closed the offices Jan. 21, saying neither office had a license to operate. They deny that Chinese pressure prompted the decision.
"We don't recognize the Dalai Lama or his representative office in Nepal," a Nepalese Foreign Ministry official said. “The local administration served a notice on them to close because they were not registered.”
The Chinese Embassy has frequently lodged strong protests with the Nepalese government for permitting the Tibetan office to operate in Nepal in the name of the Dalai Lama.
In the past, Nepal tolerated Tibetans fleeing China, with thousands settling in this Himalayan kingdom. In an unprecedented move last May, however, Nepal handed 18 Tibetans to the Chinese authorities, prompting an outcry from the United States, Britain, and the European Union.
Nepal is home to more than 20,000 Tibetan refugees who left the Himalayan region after the Dalai Lama fled in 1959, after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
One of the world's poorest countries, Nepal doesn’t permit Tibetan refugees to organize any political activity that could threaten ties with China—a major trading partner and aid donor. Nepal and China share a 1,100-km (690-mile) border.