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Tibetan pupils in India forced to return

Hundreds of children trek across the Himalayas without their parents each year, writes Teresa Poole in Peking
"If the children won't be back in Lhasa in time, we will be thrown out of our house and our themtho [residence permit] will be taken away by the Chinese. Without these, we would have no house to live in and no food to eat. I find the situation very difficult."

Such were the words of a Tibetan businessman who had travelled to India last November to remove his two children from schools run by the Dalai Lama and bring them back to Lhasa.

As part of a new clamp-down in Tibet, Chinese regulations have put a ban on government employees in Tibet sending their children to study in India. "Almost all people in the offices were talking about it, so many people were getting ready to come to India to fetch their children and take them back to Lhasa," the businessman said.

This man's family was probably included in the ban because he lives in the same house as a close relative who works for the government.

Thousands of children are affected. Tibetan officials in India estimate that over the past 10 years, up to 9,000 children have trekked across the Himalayas for free enrolment in schools run by the Dalai Lama or to join monasteries and nunneries.

It is a long, hazardous journey that can take weeks. According to the London-based Tibet Information Network (TIN), about 674 of the 777 Tibetan children who walked to Nepal or India last year travelled without their parents, with a guide, or in small groups of refugees. The story of the exodus of Tibetan children across the Himalayas is the subject of a Yorkshire Television documentary to be screened tonight.

The ban on school enrolments in India appears to have started last July following an instruction from the Chinese authorities. But it was only publicised in the official press earlier this month.

As well as government employees and Communist Party members, the ban appears to include the children of people involved in anti-government activities. Some people have been given a deadline for bringing back their children.Tibetans have also been told that, from this year, the ban will be extended to cover all contacts and visits by government employees in Tibet to their relatives in exile.

Pictures of the Dalai Lama are forbidden in government offices and the homes of government employees, the businessman said, describing how his house was searched. "Four policemen came to my house ... to check whether I had any pictures in my house ... They were all Chinese. When they reached my house I had already hidden the pictures," he told TIN.

Although the Chinese hold a disproportionate number of official posts in Tibet, particularly at the highest level, there are also many Tibetans holding government jobs.

8 ``Escape from Tibet'', will be shown on ITV tonight at 10.40pm