The Mustang shooting

Hari Bahadur Thapa

Hari Bahadur Thapa

The Mustang shooting

Political temperatures in Nepal rose after All-India Radio broadcast news that the Chinese army had encroached upon several border points. Indian radio stations were influential in Nepal at the time as there were no other news sources | PHOTO: Sam Cowan / The Record

The Chinese army entered Nepali territory and shot dead an army personnel on 28 June 1960 in the district of Mustang, resulting in considerable tension between the two neighbors.

China informed Nepal that it had sent its army to suppress Tibetan rebels. It said that the operation would be carried out without crossing the border and that the Chinese army would retreat 20 kilometers once the task was over. But on the very next day, the Chinese army entered Nepal and opened fire on a border inspection team. As soon as it got information about the firing, the Nepal government dispatched a strongly-worded letter, saying, “We are deeply wounded and our sovereignty greatly hurt by the action of the Chinese who entered Nepali territory and opened fire, even though Nepal has been a good friend of China. We demand the return of the abductees and the dead. We will also have the right to seek compensation for the incident.”

Nepal was on high alert following the Chinese invasion of Tibet. The Chinese premier had assured Nepal that his army would not, under any circumstances, penetrate into Nepali territory. Said Home Minister Surya Prasad Upadhyaya in the parliament: “It was beyond our imagination that the Chinese army would suddenly enter Nepal and open fire. Foreign forces opened fire on our soil after over a century. Naturally, all self-respecting Nepalis are hurt.”

The entry of the Chinese PLA caused a stir in the parliament. Upadhyaya informed that a 17-member Nepali team was on an inspection visit to the border when the Chinese forces entered the country and opened fire. Subedar Bam Prasad of the Nepal Army was shot dead. His corpse and the Nepali team members were taken to the Chinese camp.

The prime ministers of the two countries repeatedly corresponded with each other over the incursion. China later returned the abductees and Subedar Bam Prasad’s body to Nepal.

China had sent a letter to the Nepali prime minister on 12 July 1960, and had agreed to make a compensatory payment of Rs 50,000 for the losses and damages Nepal incurred. It said: “An unfortunate event took place when the Chinese army tried to crush the rebel bandits. There is no point or benefit in continuing to debate the incident site. We had informed the Nepal government of the arrival of our forces in Chinese territory close to the border in order to suppress Tibetan rebel bandits. As soon as the mission was completed, the Chinese army would retreat 20 kilometers from the border. The Chinese government upholds its border agreements.”

In the same letter, China had suggested that such incidents would not be repeated if an embassy and radio broadcasting service could be set up in the capitals of the two countries. Nepal sent a letter in response, saying, “We appreciate that China has acknowledged its unilateral military action based on short notice. Certainly, one-sided action by either government violates not only the words but also the spirit of the border agreement.”

Prime Minister BP Koirala said, “The Chinese premier’s response is satisfactory. What else can we do besides express indignation and demand an apology and compensation? Premier Zhou has accepted all that.” The issue subsided because China apologized immediately.

Political temperatures in Nepal had risen at the time, after All-India Radio broadcast news that the Chinese army had encroached upon several border points. Indian radio stations were influential in Nepal at the time as there were no other news sources.

Prime Minister Koirala had said in the parliament, “The news about the Chinese having encroached on a number of border areas is unverified. Such unconfirmed reports are being peddled not just by foreigners but also by some Nepalis so as to sell their newspapers. Such behavior could create a crying-wolf situation.” 

Next week’s ‘Vault of history’ column will discuss the life and times of Yogi Naraharinath, a colorful and influential character in Nepali politics after the restoration of democracy in 1950