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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Dalai Lama award heightens tensions in Tibetan areas of China

November 9, 2007

Security forces sent to put stop to celebrations in Gansu Province
By Sami Sillanpää
Helsingin Sanomat

Officials in China have used force to put down considerably daring
expressions of support by the country's Tibetan population on behalf for
the exiled leader, the Dalai Lama.

Tensions were high on Friday in the Tibetan monastery city Xiahe just
two weeks after hundreds of monks celebrated more openly than usual the
granting of a prize to the Dalai Lama by the US Congress.

"We felt so much joy in our hearts about the prize that we went to the
streets to celebrate. We were truly, truly, happy", said a Tibetan monk
clad in a red robe in Xiahe, in the northern Chinese province of Gansu.

The events of recent weeks have brought tensions that have been brewing
between China's Tibetan minority and the country's government to the
surface. The tense atmosphere could clearly be felt when Helsingin
Sanomat visited Xiahe, the most important centre of Tibetan Buddhism
outside Tibet itself.

About 1,000 monks live and study in the famous Labrang Monastery in a
magnificent mountain range at an elevation of about 3,000 metres in Xiahe.

Initial information on the clash in the remote mountain town began to
filter out through messages sent by locals to the outside world.

Tibetans interviewed in Xiahe did not want their names to be published,
for fear of reactions by officials.

"I am sorry, I cannot say anything about our situation", said one monk
and hurried away to the labyrinthine pathways of the monastery.

The award granted to the Dalai Lama on October 17th angered the Chinese
government, which accuses the Tibetan leader of seeking independence for
Tibet.

The conflict has intensified in recent months, as increasing numbers of
foreign heads of state have received the Dalai Lama in spite of China's
objections.

Local sources in Xiahe the Tibetan population there learned about the
award by reading on the Internet and listening to the short wave
broadcasts of the Tibetan language service of the Voice of America.

In defiance of the authorities, the monks and other Tibetans gathered on
the evening of the day that the Dalai Lama received the award on the
street outside the monastery and set off firecrackers, which is the way
that local people celebrate.

The government sent police, at least two lorries full of paramilitary
forces, and firefighters, say eyewitnesses.

"The Tibetans threw stones at the police. A big clash ensued", said one
monk as he made preparations for prayers in the sunlight in the
decorated yard of the monastery.

The clash continued until two in the morning, according to eyewitnesses,
and at least two monks and five police were injured. Finally the
firefighters used their water hoses to disperse the crowd. At least four
monks were arrested, but they later were released.

Local people say that the clash was the most significant such event in a
long time.

The award given to the Dalai Lama heightened tensions between the
government and the six-million Tibetans in other parts of China as well.

In the Tibetan capital Lhasa armed police surrounded the Drepung
Monastery, where monks had covered walls with white paint in honour of
the Dalai Lama, according to a recent report from the International
Campaign for Tibet.

Public displays of celebration have been put down in the provinces of
Qinghai and Sichuan as well, say foreign organisations.

On Friday at the Labrang monastery cautious political statements could
be heard when the monks held their afternoon moments of study.

"Dalai Lama" and "Tibet", whispered several monks as they passed by en
route to afternoon study.

Murmurs filled the room, whose walls were covered by colourful sheets,
where monks with shaven heads chanted while sitting cross-legged on the
floor. They drank yak milk from copper cups and ran their bells.

"Of course we like the Dalai Lama very much. We hope that he can come
back", said one monk later behind a corner.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959. The Tibetans still see him as the
religious and political leader of their people, but the government of
China will not allow expressions of support for him.

In Xiahe several monks say that they keep pictures of the Dalai Lama in
hiding in their rooms.

The police and local government of Xiahe would not return any phone
calls on Friday.

Zhang, a merchant, who is a member of the local Han Chinese population,
accused the monks of "causing trouble".

"The police did not use guns and freed those who were arrested quickly,
because they did not want to anger the Tibetans any more", he said in a
restaurant, while eating his noodles.

Zhang feels that the Tibetans are ungrateful for the achievements of the
Chinese government in raising the standard of living in the area.

With its approximately 30,000 residents, the city of Xiahe is clearly
split into a Chinese and Tibetan part. Chinese hold the most important
posts in the local government. Most of the Tibetans live in the
surrounding plateau, herding yaks.

Most of the Tibetan population in the area do not speak Chinese, and
interaction between population groups is minimal.

A large number of Tibetan websites in China were recently shut down.

Officials have also confiscated satellite dishes, which Tibetans have
been keeping in defiance of bans, in order to watch foreign news
broadcasts, says the Free Tibet organisation. Media supervised by the
Chinese government have not reported on the events.

As the sun sets behind the mountaintops in Xiahe, the monks withdrew to
their humble living quarters around the monastery. One monk in an alley
expressed his opinion very simply, by saying "Dalai Lama" and raising
his thumb, underneath his robe.

 

Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 3.11.2007

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