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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."

China's grip still firm on Tibetan area

September 25, 2008

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Gansu, China
Thursday, 25 September 2008

On the edge of Tibetan towns in this western province, special police
officers carrying rifles stand guard behind checkpoints made of sandbags.

Inside the towns, convoys of police vehicles drive up and down the
streets. Security personnel stop shoppers and question them.

Six months after Tibetans staged riots and protests against Chinese
rule, Beijing still maintains a tight grip on this largely Tibetan area.

Locals say their lives have not yet returned to normal, and many people
arrested during the March unrest are still in prison.

'Criminal attacks'

Trouble began in the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in southern
Gansu, shortly after riots erupted in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

According to the local authorities, schools, shops and buildings
belonging to the Communist Party and government were attacked by
"criminals".

In the town of Hezuo, there is a bustling open-air market, where
shoppers haggle over live chickens, dried goods, clothes, fruit and music.

Outside town, in the small villages that line the valley roads, farmers
are harvesting highland barley and potatoes. Others herd goats.

But things are not as they were before the unrest, as one farmer with a
weather-beaten face and a gold tooth was willing to explain.

"It hasn't returned to normal yet. They've released some of the people
from prison, but not all of them," he said as he sat on a hillside near
the village of Yumo.

The Chinese government blames the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's exiled
spiritual leader, for orchestrating the unrest earlier this year.

But the farmer dismissed such claims. "We rose up on our own because
there are no human rights here," he said.

Another Tibetan man told a similar story, although he only agreed to
speak behind the relative security of closed doors.

"There are military personnel on every corner of the street. We don't
have any freedom at all. Life is very difficult right now," he said.

He added that Tibetans want more freedom - and they want the Dalai Lama
to return to his homeland.

Government investment

There are signs that China is taking the carrot-and-stick approach to
resolving the still-tense situation in Gannan, where just over half the
population is Tibetan.

The large number of personnel from the People's Armed Police - they even
guard petrol stations - suggests Beijing is prepared for further trouble.

But the authorities also appear to be spending money in what could be a
bid to quieten a population that openly criticises the government.

The Yumo farmer said the local government had handed out 3,000 yuan
($440; £240) compensation to every citizen after the March unrest.

And when the BBC visited Hezuo, a van from the local propaganda
department was on the streets telling people about a new healthcare scheme.

The town square was also being spruced up. Workmen were putting new
paving slabs in place, planting trees and laying out lawns.

Beijing seems concerned about the unrest, even if it publicly says there
was no justification for it.

While we were in Gannan, a national committee in charge of minorities
and religious affairs was holding a three-day investigation tour of the
area.

A document circulated among delegates at the meeting shows Beijing wants
to push ahead and create a "well-off society" in the prefecture.

It talks about developing the area's hydroelectricity potential, and the
tourism industry in what is an area of stunning natural beauty, with
mountains, clear blue skies and pine forests.

Negotiations

Beijing is also engaged in talks with the Tibetan government-in-exile,
based in Dharamsala in India, about the situation in Tibetan areas.

The next round of talks is due to take place in October.

But Wang Lixiong, who has written about the relationship between Beijing
and its Tibetan regions, believes China is not serious about making a
breakthrough.

"I've always thought that the talks were only about letting foreigners
think the government is doing something - it's an act," he said.

Meanwhile Tibetans have seen very little benefit from negotiations which
have been going on for several years, said the Chinese expert.

Mr Wang believes the next round of talks is critical. If Beijing does
not offer concessions, the Tibetans may refuse to continue talking.

Back to normal?

Back in Gansu, people are getting on with their lives, even if it is
under the watchful eye of China's security forces.

At a monastery with a golden roof in the village of Zagzag, monks - some
as young as 13 - are still praying and studying.

They are reluctant to talk about their lives since the March unrest,
although that reticence suggests they face pressure from the authorities.

Author Mr Wang believes China's crackdown following the protests has
made Tibetans more aware of their rights.

"Slowly, Tibetans who didn't know anything about independence are
beginning to understand what it means," he said.

That suggests the tension in China's Tibetan areas will not quickly
subside.
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