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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Dalai Lama guard recalls leader's dramatic escape

March 10, 2009

AFP
March 08, 2009

NEW DELHI - Sitting in his riverside house in north Delhi, Ratu Ngawang casts his mind back 50 years and recalls how he helped smuggle the Dalai Lama to safety as Chinese soldiers followed in hot pursuit.

Ngawang, now 83, was one of the hardened guerrilla fighters responsible for ensuring the Tibetan spiritual leader was not captured or killed on his hair-raising journey over the Himalayas to India.

"It was my job to ensure that wherever the Dalai Lama was staying, there were no Chinese troops in the surrounding area," he said. "I ran the security operation, and also selected those guards who would be near His Holiness."

Ngawang remembers those desperate days -- when the Tibetans were fighting for their survival -- as exciting, violent and physically demanding.

"We killed many of their soldiers, and without regret," he said. "I was an experienced warrior and was unafraid. We were battling to save the Dalai Lama, so we were prepared to die. Many of my best friends lost their lives."

Ngawang, who is now slightly deaf but otherwise appears in good health, has recently published an autobiography that took him 13 years to complete.

It tells of his adventures fighting in Tibet and also of his later life in India, much of which he has spent trying to foster an armed resistance movement inside his homeland.

"It has been a sad life for me, being away from home for 50 years, but my only worries have been for the welfare of the Tibetans still in Tibet and whether the Dalai Lama will ever return," he said.

The book is illustrated with pictures of Ngawang and his fellow guerrillas posing with captured Chinese weapons, and one photograph that shows Ngawang and the Dalai Lama travelling on horseback before the dramatic events of 1959.

"Look, we are both wearing the same woollen 'monkey caps,'" he said, pointing at the picture. "Many years later the Dalai Lama asked me where my hat was. I'd lost it, but he said he still has the same one."

Ngawang is celebrated among Tibetan exiles for his role in the Dalai Lama's epic escape, though he did not accompany his leader across the border into India's northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh on March 31.

"We had to make sure the terrain around him was always safe by sending advance teams ahead on the route. As he went on, I then stayed back to tackle the Chinese troops who were following," he recalled.

Ngawang crossed into India later in 1959 and settled in Majnu Katila, a Tibetan district in north Delhi where about 3,000 exiles and families live beside the Yamuna river.

On March 10, the community will hold ceremonies and prayers marking the 50th anniversary of the failed uprising against China after which the young Tibetan leader was forced to flee.

Ngawang, who plans to spend the day quietly at home, remains in close contact with Dalai Lama and is confident that those who protect him today are up to the job.

"My son Tenzin Gawa serves now as one of his personal bodyguards," he said. "Of course, that makes me very proud."
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