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Where Have All the Monks Gone?

June 27, 2008

China re-opens tourism to Tibet, but all is not well in Lhasa
By Jared Pearman
Epoch Times, Washington DC Staff
June 25, 2008

Chinese authorities announced Tuesday they would be welcoming
international tourism to Tibet, which has been all but completely
inaccessible to foreign tourists and members of the press since
violent protests broke out in March.

The state-run Xinhua news agency reported that international tourists
would be able to travel to Tibet as of Wednesday, June 25, though the
scope of the tourism is expected to remain limited.

The move to reopen the far-Western province is intended as a signal
to the world that Tibet has returned to a state of normalcy in the
wake of the Olympic torch relay in Lhasa. Yet if the extensive
security checkpoints and apparent disappearance of monks are any
indication, all is not well in the Tibetan capital.

During the Olympic torch relay, which passed through Lhasa for three
hours on June 21, the city was reported to be under virtual
lock-down. Foreign reporters allowed to visit the region were
escorted through half a dozen security check-points, and the audience
-- brimming with Communist flags -- appeared to be a hand-picked
selection of predominantly Han Chinese.

Tibetan locals were largely kept away from the Torch's route, and
were told to stay in their homes and shutter their windows, according
to media reports.
For full coverage please see Repression in Tibet

During the closing ceremony of the torch relay, Zhang Qingli, head of
Tibet's Communist Party, declared, "We are convinced that the Beijing
Olympic Games' torch relay in Lhasa will further inflame the
patriotic spirit of the people. We will certainly be able to totally
smash the splittist schemes of the Dalai Lama clique" -- an unusual
choice of words given the communist regime's previous decrying of
human rights critics "politicizing" the games.

The leader of Tibet's Communist Party declared, "We are convinced
that the Beijing Olympic Games' torch relay in Lhasa will further
inflame the patriotic spirit of the people. We will certainly be able
to totally smash the splittist schemes of the Dalai Lama clique" "an
unusual choice of words given the communist regime's previous
decrying of human rights critics "politicizing" the games.

Yet even after the torch moved on, security in the capital remains
tight. Police checkpoints are reportedly ubiquitous, checking and
registering the identification cards that monks are required to carry.

With the increased security, Lhasa's monks seem to have thinned
dramatically in numbers. Reports from the foreign media allowed into
the capital suggest they have been almost absent from Lhasa's
streets, and few remain at the Buddhist monasteries.

Reporting for Canada's Globe and Mail, Geoffrey York reported that at
Lhasa's Sera monastery -- the second-largest in Tibet -- the usual
550 monks had disappeared from sight. Only about ten were left,
giving terse answers to the media's questions before being whisked
away by security officers.

"We've received lots of reports of trainloads of monks being taken
out of Tibet, off the plateau," says Ben Carrdus, a senior researcher
with the International Campaign for Tibet in Washington D.C. "These
journalists are coming back with the first corroborating evidence of
the scale of this."

As to the apparent disappearance of monks surrounding the Olympic
torch relay, Carrdus says there's not yet any definitive explanation.

"It's not certain that they've been detained. [...] It could be that
a lot of the monks in these monasteries have simply been told to
return to their home areas if they don't have the required
identification cards."

Amnesty International demanded last Thursday that Chinese authorities
release information on the over 1,000 Tibetans who have been detained
since March, noting in a press release that "there is very little
information coming out of Tibet, but the information we have paints a
dire picture of arbitrary detentions and abuse of detainees."

Chinese authorities said the Amnesty report had "not a shred of
credibility." But on Friday, a senior official said they had released
1,157 of the 1,315 people detained.

The Tibetan government-in-exile estimated that at least 209 Tibetans
have been killed since demonstrations broke out in March protesting
Communist rule.
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