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Chinese impose blackout over new Tibetan monk deaths

July 20, 2008

Jane Macartney in Beijing
The Times
July 18, 2008

Two monks at a monastery in western China were killed in a clash with
paramilitary police last weekend, three Tibetan sources have told The Times.

The monks, at a monastery in western Sichuan province, which borders
Tibet, were killed in a clash on July 12. For monks of what are
popularly known as the “red hat” sects, the date marks one of the most
auspicious festivals of the year.

It is the first report of the lethal use of gunfire against Tibetan
protesters demanding the return of the exiled Dalai Lama and
independence since the fatal shootings on April 2 at the Tongkor
monastery. The reports come despite a news blackout imposed by the
Chinese authorities on reports of continuing deadly unrest in Tibetan
parts of the country. A month before the Olympics, Beijing is determined
to present a trouble-free image to the world.

Tibetan sources said that the trouble erupted when monks at the Gonchen
monastery, one of the most prominent in the region and renowned as a
centre for printing Buddhist sutras, or scriptures, attempted to mark a
festival that fell on the tenth day of the sixth month of the Tibetan
calendar.

The festival pays homage to the birthday of Padmasambhava, or Guru
Rimpoche, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. Officials assigned to the
monastery to keep an eye on the monks, especially since a deadly riot in
Lhasa on March 12, refused to allow the men to hold their traditional
dances.

What happened next may never be clear. Repeated calls to Dege, a town in
a remote region on the edge of the Tibetan plateau, resulted in
professions of ignorance of any incident on that date. Information
barely trickles out from an area where People’s Liberation Army troops
man roadblocks in almost every town and village.

A worker at a local hotel said: “The incident on July 12 was just an
accident. Everything is safe here.” Another said: “The monasteries are
open to visitors.” A government official put down the telephone when
asked about the incident. Chinese officials installed in the monastery
have refused to answer questions.

The Tibetan sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that
officers from the paramilitary People’s Armed Police were deployed to
halt any violence and shots were fired. One said: “Two monks were
killed. These were my relatives.”

The Chinese Government is anxious to suppress any details of unrest in
Tibetan areas, particularly reports of fatal violence, with less than a
month to go before the Games.

Security authorities have emphasised their anxiety about threats of
terrorist attack from the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority living in the
westernmost Chinese region of Xinjiang. Only this week they said they
had tracked down 12 terrorist groups operating in the region. Earlier,
the authorities said they had arrested gangs planning to kidnap athletes
and foreign journalists at the Games.

There have been no reports of threats from restive monks in Tibet.
However, a ban on flags from any non-participating countries is meant to
stop activists from waving the “snow lion” of Tibet, associated with
attempts to break away from China.

China will ban all entertainers from overseas, Hong Kong and Taiwan who
have ever attended activities that “threaten national sovereignty”, the
Government said yesterday after an outburst by the Icelandic singer Björk.

This year, she shouted: “Tibet! Tibet!” at a Shanghai concert after
performing her song Declare Independence, which she has used to promote
other independence movements.

Oldest sect

— The Nyingma sect, also known as the Red Hat Sect, is the oldest sect
of Tibetan Buddhism.

— Its name, meaning “ancient” or “old” in the Tibetan language, stems
from its practice of Buddhism deeply rooted in the Tubo Kingdom of the
8th century.

— Nyingma monks wear red hats, while the Gelug sect, formed in the 14th
century, wear yellow ones. The Dalai Lama is the figurehead of the
dominant Yellow Hat sect.

— The Red Hat sect claims as its founder Padmasambhava, the man credited
with building Tibet’s first monastery, Samye, in the late 8th century.

— The sect advocates the study of Tantrism and its monks can marry. It
is also active in India, Bhutan and Nepal.

(Sources: www.tibet-tour.com; Times archives)
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