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Calls for Govt to step in on Tibet-China row

Media release – March 16, 2008

Top NZ expedition leader calls on Government to step into Tibet-China row over closure of Everest

Top New Zealand expedition leader Guy Cotter today appealed to the Government to step into the Chinese-Nepalese closure of Mt Everest.

Cotter flies to Nepal tomorrow for the latest expedition season but not before an urgent plea to Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters.

Cotter organises mountaineering expeditions to Mt Everest through a company Adventure Consultants which he took over after the Everest death of Rob Hall, the original founder, in 1996.

``We are poised to embark on our annual expedition to Mt Everest (SE Ridge route, Nepal side) with clients from across the globe. The expedition has been planned and organised over the last year and I leave today for Nepal.

``But we have been caught in the middle of a political wrangle to satisfy China’s Olympic image,’’ Cotter said.

Their expedition usually runs from March 30 to June 2, climbing in the favoured pre-monsoon season. The Chinese are planning to film the Olympic torch being carried to the summit of Mt Everest around May 1-10 and due to their concern that there will be free Tibet protests at the mountain, the Chinese government closed access to Mt Everest from the north (Tibetan side) only 10 days ago after months of stating they would not.

Then just two days ago they closed all access to Tibet to all tourists. Now the Chinese government have forced the Nepalese government to follow suit and close the mountain to all climbers on the south (Nepal) side until May 10 when the torch carrying activities have been completed.

``But this is too late for us to then approach the mountain, set up our camps, fix ropes on the mountain and hope to summit before the monsoon arrives in early June.

``Apart from the huge amount of income (which I estimate as about $10 million) lost to the local peoples of Nepal and Tibet, who staff these expeditions and rely on the income, this is a case where the legitimate sport of mountaineering is forcibly being stopped - in the name of the Olympics,’’ Cotter said.

``We have attempted to negotiate with the Nepalese authorities through our representatives in Kathmandu to suggest a compromise where we go only as high as camp 3 on the mountain, some 1500m away from the summit until after the torch carrying exercise is completed.

``This would ensure no summit day interference from the free Tibet protesters they are so worried about and allow us to continue our business, and allow all those people who have spent a lot of time and money preparing for the ascent to continue.

``My business will be severely affected as we will not gain the income from this major component of our overall yearly business, but we will also face a difficult and embarrassing situation trying to recoup funds we have already spent. That this closure has come at the 11th hour makes the situation more dire than if we had known months ago.

``The situation for us is this: the Nepalese (especially the Sherpa people whom New Zealanders have such a link to, through Sir Edmund Hillary's efforts); and the Tibetans, is akin to having the Australian government cancel the Rugby World Cup in NZ due to an Australian issue that has little to do with the actual event. This is the first time since Nepal opened its borders to foreigners in 1951 that climbing Mt Everest has been closed.’’

Cotter today asked Peters and the NZ government to lobby the Chinese and Nepalese on behalf of the climbing industry to request reconsideration.



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