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China Forces Are Reported to Have Shot at Tibetans

January 16, 2012

The New York Times

January 14, 2012
By EDWARD WONG

BEIJING — Chinese security forces on Saturday fired into a crowd of
Tibetans in a restive area of Sichuan Province after they tried to take
away the body of a Tibetan man who had died after setting himself on fire
that morning to protest Chinese policies in the Tibetan areas, according
to reports from two Tibet advocacy groups and Tibetan officials in the
exile government in India.

It appeared that at least two people had been hit by gunfire, and one of
those might have been killed, said Kate Saunders, a spokeswoman for
International Campaign for Tibet, which is based in Washington. Ms.
Saunders said the group had spoken to at least two sources.

Another group, Free Tibet, said it had confirmed reports that a Tibetan
woman was shot. There were unconfirmed reports that many others were also
hit, said Stephanie Brigden, the director of the group, which is based in
London. Security officials in the area could not be reached for comment on
Saturday night.

The violence took place in the town of Aba, known in Tibetan as Ngaba, a
focal point for protests against Chinese rule and the scene of civilian
deaths during a widespread Tibetan uprising in 2008. Since then, it has
been the site of at least 11 self-immolations, some of them fatal. Those
setting themselves on fire have mainly been monks, nuns or former members
of the clergy. The monks in Aba who set themselves on fire all come from
the Kirti Monastery, where anger has grown over Chinese repression of
religious practices.

The self-immolation on Saturday was the 16th since March 2010, when
Phuntsog, a monk at Kirti, set himself on fire and died. The wave of
self-immolations in the past year was preceded by that of one monk from
Kirti in the spring of 2009. In total, at least 12 Tibetans have died
through self-immolation since 2009, if the death on Saturday is confirmed.
Scholars of modern Tibet say the self-immolations represent a new and
disturbing protest strategy among the clergy.

Four of the self-immolations have taken place recently. There was no
information on Saturday about the identity of the person who committed the
latest act. Ms. Saunders said several witnesses reported that the police
began beating the man after putting out his flames. “Tibetans at the scene
became very distressed and angry and gathered together in what seems to be
an impromptu demonstration,” she said in an e-mail.

The Tibetan government-in-exile in India issued a statement on Saturday
saying that 700 people had surrounded the police station after the police
took away the body of the person who had set himself on fire. “A
confrontation ensued and an elderly Tibetan woman was reportedly shot dead
by the police,” the statement said.

The statement added: “The People’s Republic of China’s government must
take full responsibility for these cases of self-immolation. It is within
its power to end these unfortunate incidents by adopting liberal policies
for Tibet and Tibetan people.”

Since Phuntsog’s suicide nearly two years ago, large numbers of the
People’s Armed Police, the security branch charged with riot control and
quelling domestic unrest, have flooded Aba and surrounded Kirti. It has
been impossible for foreign journalists to do any reporting in the town
and the monastery.

Hundreds of monks have been taken away from the monastery and presumably
detained for “patriotic education,” a common strategy used by the
authorities to deal with discontent among the clergy. Such campaigns
include forcing the monks to denounce the Dalai Lama.

Violent protests have become increasingly widespread throughout China, but
it is rare for the riot police to fire live ammunition into a crowd. The
paramilitary officers deployed in Tibetan areas appear to be an exception.
During the 2008 uprising, when large crowds in Aba had gathered after
rioting in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, at least 10 people were shot dead
in Aba by security forces, according to reports by Tibet advocacy groups
and photographic evidence gathered by monks at Kirti’s sister monastery in
Dharamsala, India.
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