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Tibetans recount shooting by guards

NEW DELHI -- They waded through Himalayan snowdrifts and climbed ice-covered rocky terrain for 17 days, cold, hungry, and exhausted.

Then came the shooting.

As 75 Tibetan refugees were making a secret trek across the border into Nepal, moving in single file across a mountain slope near the 19,000-foot-high Nanpa La Pass, Chinese border guards opened fire.

One woman -- a 25-year-old Buddhist nun -- was killed immediately in the Sept. 30 shooting, group members said. Chinese officials, in a statement, have said a second person also died.

"There was no warning of any kind. The bullets were so close I could hear them whizzing past," Thubten Tsering, a Tibetan monk, told journalists in New Delhi yesterday. "We scattered and ran."

Thubten is among 41 refugees who managed to reach India after the shooting. The refugees said 32 others, including nine children, were taken into custody by the guards .

"We don't know where they are or what happened to them," said Thubten, his exhausted face still bearing signs of the ordeal.

Thousands of Tibetans flee Chinese rule in Tibet every year. Unable to obtain passports, many trek over Himalayan passes to reach Nepal and then India, where the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, lives in exile. Reports of arrests and ill-treatment by Chinese authorities are common.

What separates the Sept. 30 shooting is that international mountaineers, on an expedition, saw the gunfire and filmed it.

Footage of the incident, shot by a Romanian cameraman, has sparked an international outcry.

The video shows a distant figure that its narrator says is a Chinese border guard firing a rifle and a separate scene of a person in a line of figures walking through the snow then falling to the ground. An unidentified man near the camera can be heard saying in English, "They are shooting them like, like dogs."

The Chinese government, in a report released two weeks ago by the official Xinhua News Agency, said the border guards fired in self-defense after clashing with about 70 people trying to leave the country illegally.

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