Chinese government backs down on expulsion of British aid worker from Tibet

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China has backed down after forcing a British aid worker to leave Tibet. The Save the Children Fund (SCF) education expert has been told she will be allowed to return to Lhasa and the charity hopes she will be back at her job within weeks. It is unusual for China to change its mind about expelling a foreign resident.

When The Independent in December reported the refusal of officials in Tibet to renew the worker's residency papers, the European Union froze its planned 7.6m ecu (pounds 5m) Panam development project for Tibet. The project is supposed to involve non-governmental organisations such as SCF, but when its education expert was expelled the British charity said it would not be able to consider involvement in Panam.

Sir Leon Brittan, vice-president of the the European Commission, was in Peking yesterday for negotiations on China's attempts to join the World Trade Organisation, but his officials will also be briefed on the SCF saga. The EU is seeking confirmation that the new work permit has been granted and no similar problems will occur. Only then will moves be made to sign the Panam agreement, the EU's first bilateral aid project for Tibet. Few foreigners are based full-time in Tibet and the expulsion of the SCF's only expatriate staff member based in Lhasa sounded alarm bells among the aid community there. No reason was given after the woman was not allowed back into Tibet after going on holiday in July. It seemed the Chinese had become wary of her simply because she had lived in Lhasa for three years and spoke reasonable Tibetan.