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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China: Tibetan youth organization bent on terror

December 1, 2008

Group's leader says Bejiing is just using scare tactics
By Tim Johnson
The Houston Chronicle (Texas, USA)
November 29, 2008

DHARAMSALA, India -- A rundown two-story building in this Himalayan
hill station might not seem to be the command center of a subversive
group jangling the nerves of neighboring China. Monkeys clamber over
the rooftop, and any stranger may walk through its front door.

Yet China calls the Tibetan Youth Congress "a terror group worse than
(Osama) bin Laden's" and accuses it of stockpiling guns, bombs and
grenades in Tibet for use by separatist fighters.

China alleges that the 30,000-member group has allied itself with
al-Qaida and with a homegrown Muslim separatist organization in
China, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.

The president of the congress, Tsewang Rigzin, a former banker who
lived in Minneapolis, scoffs at China's charges, saying his group
seeks independence for Tibet but adheres to nonviolent principles put
forth by the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader whose
headquarters are here.

"These are all baseless and fallacious allegations that the Chinese
are making," Rigzin said over a meal of curry at a local restaurant,
suggesting that the charges were scare tactics aimed at the Chinese citizenry.

If nothing else, the views of the Tibetan Youth Congress underscore
the chasm between Beijing and Dharamsala over Tibet. On the streets
of China's large cities, ordinary citizens consider government
charges against the Tibetan Youth Congress as obvious fact, and look
upon those who question them as concealing a general bias toward
China. For their part, Tibetans see the charges as weird and fanciful.

Not your typical terrorist
Rigzin, a 38-year-old son of poor Tibetan exiles, hardly seems the
prototype of an international terrorist. He favors sport coats and,
with his receding hairline and soft-spoken manner, looks the part of
the banker that he was until mid-2007, when he left a wife and two
daughters in the U.S. to serve a three-year term as the group's president.

Rigzin was born in northeast India's Sikkim region, later moving to
south India with his parents. In 1993, he won a government lottery
for a U.S. visa and was placed in Santa Monica, Calif., where he got
a job making espresso at a local mall. He eventually moved to the
Twin Cities, where he climbed the ladder at a regional bank, NorWest,
which later was bought by Wells Fargo. A few years ago, he moved to
Vancouver, Wash.

Unrest gained attention
The Tibetan Youth Congress, founded in 1970, has some 30,000 members
spread across 12 countries, with the largest chapters in India,
Nepal, the U.S., the United Kingdom and Canada. Its former leaders
have often gone on to serve in the Tibetan government in exile
headquartered here, which objects to China's viselike grip on the
Tibetan Plateau since a military incursion in 1950.

China turned its sights on the Congress during a spasm of unrest that
erupted March 14 in Lhasa, Tibet's capital, when ethnic Tibetans
rampaged through the city's streets, angry at the arrest of monks
days earlier during peaceful demonstrations. Rioters overturned
police cars, smashed store windows and set fires.

Authorities said the rioting left at least 22 people dead, many of
them Han Chinese, while exiles said more than 100 died, most of them Tibetans.

Largely peaceful demonstrations spread in subsequent weeks to dozens
of other ethnic Tibetan areas, turning into the largest bout of
ethnic unrest in China in nearly two decades.

A spy network system
Liu Hongji, a senior researcher at the China Tibetology Research
Center, a Beijing-based organization that does research on Tibet,
said the Tibetan Youth Congress played a role in the unrest through
the use of "mobile phones, e-mail and sending people to China. They
have a system, which is like a spy network."

In May, Liu told the official Xinhua news agency that the Congress
"sought mutual support from international terrorist organizations
such as al-Qaida and East Turkestan groups" in northwest China. The
agency also quoted him as saying the group held training sessions,
"such as one on 'dynamite techniques' and another on how to carry out
violent and terrorist activities."

In the interview, though, Liu declined to elaborate on charges that
the group is now armed.

"Because we do research, not intelligence, we cannot provide
details," Liu said. "But it is said that they have these (weapons).
These are secret."

Rigzin declined to say whether Congress members played any role in
stirring unrest earlier this year in Tibet.
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