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Chinese authorities cancel a Tibetan festival that erupted in protests a year ago

July 13, 2008

Tibetan Festival Banned, Troops Muster
RFA
July 11, 2008

DHARAMSALA, India -- Authorities in a Tibetan region of China's
southwestern Sichuan province have ordered a build-up of security
forces in the region and canceled an annual horse-racing festival
that was marked by protests a year ago, according to residents and
exiled Tibetans from the area.

"There is a huge Chinese military force in Lithang," one Tibetan
resident said. "They are intimidating local Tibetans by conducting
firing drills and other military exercises."

"The sounds of explosions and firing of weapons can be heard loudly
in the Lithang area," he said, adding that the noise had frightened
away birds, making it impossible to conduct traditional "sky burials"
in which carrion birds carry off the bodies of the dead.

"The noise from the firing drills and explosions is so intense and
loud that no birds are flying in the area," he said.

Travel ban

Numerous exiled Tibetans with relatives in Lithang [in Chinese,
Litang] confirmed a build-up of security forces around the town and
its monasteries.

"I haven't been able to contact my hometown for quite some time,"
Amdruk Tseten, a Lithang native now living in India, said. "Today, I
got through. Starting from July 5, Chinese security forces have been
deployed in different places."

"They have warned that no-one is allowed to move around or go to
Lithang town and its monasteries for three days. If anyone goes, the
local authorities have warned that the Chinese security forces are
authorized to shoot," he added.

He said Tibetan residents of neighboring counties, including
Nyakchuka [in Chinese, Yajiang] county, were banned from Lithang town.

"The Lithang International Horse-Racing Festival is also banned this
year," he said. "Additional troops have been sent to the area, and
many Chinese soldiers are disguising the number of troops by putting
on Tibetan dress."

2007 protests

Lithang is home to a high proportion of Tibetans, especially nomads.
The town saw a mass protest during a horse-racing festival in
mid-August last year, and the area has a long history of chafing
under Chinese rule.

The standoff began during a festival ceremony Aug. 1, 2007 after
police detained Yonru nomad Ronggyal Adrak for whipping up the crowd
to shout in support of the Dalai Lama.

Nomads issued three specific demands, including the release of
Ronggyal Adrak, who was later jailed for "splitting the country,"
religious freedom including the right to hear teachings by the Dalai
Lama, and the release of revered Tibetan monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche,
among other prisoners.

They withdrew only after Tibetan leaders begged them to do so, vowing
to restart their protests if the demands weren't met. The authorities
promptly launched a "patriotic re-education" campaign and posted
Tibetan officials away from the area.

Tenzin Dorjee, a Tibetan monk from Lithang now living in southern
India's Drepung monastery, said the restrictions were being imposed
for fear of similar incidents this August.

"This year, the Chinese authorities have ordered local people not to
organize a horse racing festival," he said. "Tibetans in Lithang are
also now seeing a build-up of Chinese troops."

"They are deployed in different areas in Lithang. A contingent of
more than 600 Chinese soldiers is stationed very close to the
monastery of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in Nyakchuka county. The Chinese
army camp is only two miles from the monastery," he said.

'Patriotic education'

Calls to government and police departments in Lithang went
unconnected during office hours this week.

The Chinese authorities have launched a concerted "patriotic
education" campaign among Tibetans aimed at diminishing support for
the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Beijing blames the Dalai Lama for violence that erupted in Lhasa,
capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, on March 14 following several
days of peaceful protests.

Beijing says that 22 people were killed in rioting, which spread
rapidly from Lhasa to other Tibetan areas of western China. Tibetan
sources say scores of people were killed when Chinese paramilitary
and police opened fire on crowds of unarmed demonstrators.

Chinese authorities have blamed the Dalai Lama for instigating the
protests and fomenting a Tibetan independence movement. The Dalai
Lama rejects the accusation, saying he wants only autonomy and human
rights for Tibetans.

Original reporting by Lobsang Chophel for RFA's Tibetan service.
Director: Jigme Ngapo. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta
Mudie. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.
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