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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Tibet's mountain highway readies for Olympic spectacle

April 28, 2008

Sat Apr 26, 2008
By Nick Mulvenney

LHATSE, China (Reuters) - A journey on Tibet's "Friendship Highway" is a
tightly controlled reminder of the tensions and anxieties that China
hopes to push aside as the Olympic Games torch passes through here in
coming weeks.

The government is still clearly worried after last month's riots in the
Tibetan capital Lhasa sparked the biggest protests against Chinese rule
for decades.

A party of foreign reporters in Tibet to prepare for the torch relay leg
up Mount Everest in May -- only the second foreign reporting group
allowed in since the riots in mid-March -- were whisked by officials
from Lhasa airport to Shigatse, the region's second city.

The highway winds its way across the mountainous Tibetan plateau from
Lhasa to the Himalayan border with Nepal, passing through Shigatse,
about 300 km (190 miles) west of Lhasa, and then Lhatse, which is about
160 km further along.

Shigatse is the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama, the Tibet Buddhist
leader through which China has claimed religious credibility for its
rule since his counterpart, the Dalai Lama, fled to India in 1959.

"We respect the Panchen Lama more than the Dalai Lama here," 26-year-old
monk Nyma Dundrop told reporters at the Tsam Monastery, perched above
the main Shigatse-Lhatse road at 4,500 meters (14,850 feet) above sea
level. "And we feel free in religion."

The 1,000-year-old monastery displayed several portraits of the 10th
Panchen Lama, a popular figure who died in 1989, and he was much more in
evidence than the current 11th Panchen, controversially chosen with the
backing of Beijing.

BAD BEHAVIOR

Nyma Dundrop, one of 22 monks at the monastery, was also allowed to give
his opinion about the role of monks in the riots before questions about
the Dalai Lama were cut short when the translator was hustled out of the
room by a Beijing official.

"That's not a proper way for a lama (monk) to behave. That's not right,"
the monk said of the riots.

Outside Shigatse, the pastels of traditional Buddhist prayer flags
around houses have been conspicuously supplemented by the bold red of
Chinese flags, many clearly new.

The highway was quiet, perhaps because of the dearth of tour groups
plowing their way through the Himalayan foothills to Everest or Nepal.
The only significant traffic was a couple of military convoys heading
back to Shigatse.

The military presence outside Shigatse was also lighter than it was
heading out from Lhasa but even then it was now limited to a couple of
helmeted sentries on a bridge and a few police checkpoints.

"There was no trouble here last month," said Dor Bujie, a retiree from
Shigatse, whose visit to Xi Jin Hot Springs outside the city coincided
with the arrival of the foreign media.

"Not in this prefecture, it was mainly in Lhasa. Here it is peaceful."

Like most of the people this far south in Tibet, Dor Bujie is ethnically
Tibetan. The five percent or so of non-Tibetans in the region tend to
live in and around Lhasa.

"From the religious point of view, it's the Panchen Lama around here,"
he added. "It's the separatists and rioters who did the bad things. The
robbers and burners were monsters."

CELEBRATIONS FOR THE TORCH

Dor Bujie, who seemed to carry a lot more weight among the locals than a
humble ordinary pensioner, was not inclined to get carried away with
Friday's report that the Chinese government would open talks with the
representatives of the Dalai Lama.

"It depends on what the Dalai Lama is going to say," he said. "I know
this had something to do with what happened last month."

Se Wang, another Tibetan at the springs, did not want to tell reporters
her age or job. Her traditional garb and weathered face, however,
indicated that she was one of the many women who work the fields near
the springs.

The attendant local official was not needed to translate her shrugs of
ignorance when she was asked about the Dalai Lama, the March riots, the
Olympic torch relay and the Games.

The same was true of the other locals at the hot springs -- which were
past a marker proclaiming travelers 5,000 km from Beijing -- and so it
was left to Dor Bujie to dominate centre stage once more.

"We are going to prepare for the celebrations," he said of the torch's
ascent up the world's highest mountain over the next week or so.

"It's a really great thing for us Tibetans and we're going to make sure
we're ready. I hope you can get a clearer understanding of Tibet and
Tibetans."

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Chris Buckley and David Fogarty)

(Take a look at the Countdown to Beijing blog at blogs.reuters.com/china)
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