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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 Intensifies Resettlement of Tibetan Nomads

August 31, 2009

By Michael Lipin
Voice of America
August 29, 2009

Washington -- The Chinese government announced this week that it has
moved about 50,000 Tibetan nomads out of a nature reserve in the west
of the country as part of a resettlement program that began in 2005.
Beijing says the program is meant to protect the ecosystem of the
Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. But Tibetan activists accuse the Chinese
government of destroying an ancient nomadic culture that treats the
environment with respect.

China's government says it has intensified its resettlement of
Tibetan nomads in Qinghai Province to stop their herds from damaging
a nature reserve.

Along with climate change, China says overgrazing by cattle is
turning parts of the Sanjiangyuan reserve into a desert. The region
is home to the headwaters of three major Asian rivers -- the Yellow,
Yangtze and Mekong.

Rinchen Tashi, who grew up as a herder in the nature reserve, is a
China analyst at the Washington-based human rights group, the
International Campaign for Tibet. He rejects Beijing's criticism of
the nomad lifestyle. "The Tibetan nomads have been living in that
area for thousands of years, and generation to generation. They are
actually the best protector of the environment for that area," he said.

Tashi says the nomads shift their cattle from one pasture to another
as the seasons change to prevent overgrazing. He says herders are
brought up to respect the region's ecosystem.

Tashi says that when he was a child, he used to pick up colorful
rocks and bring them home as toys, but that his grandfather would
tell him to put them back. "My grandfather was a herdsman. He never
went to school. But about the environment -- those areas -- I can say
he is a Ph.D. expert!," he said.

Tashi says global warming is one factor behind the region's
environmental problems. But he says, most of the damage comes from
Chinese government infrastructure projects, such as mining and railroads.

Chinese state media say the government has built 86 new communities
in the Sanjiangyuan region to house almost 50,000 herders.

They quote environmental official Li Xiaonan as saying authorities
have helped the nomads adapt to their new, sedentary life by giving
them job training, loans and schools. Li says the villagers' annual
per capita income rose to $300 last year -- double the amount they
earned as nomads.

But human rights activist John Isom with the Tibet Justice Center in
California says the herders remain poor compared to most Chinese. He
accuses Beijing of forcing the nomads to rely on state handouts,
robbing them of their economic independence.

"You are causing a cultural genocide by removing people from the
livelihood they have known for millennia and sticking them in
concrete walls they have never lived in before. You do not forcibly
remove a people and put them in a context in which they do not know
how to earn a living, and then hand them bags full of rice when
historically they were not even rice eaters. They were barley
growers," he said.

Isom says the Chinese government is removing the nomads from their
traditional grasslands, sometimes forcibly, to exercise more control
over the Tibetan population.

He says China has been pursuing such a policy not only in Qinghai,
but also in Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces and in the Tibetan
Autonomous Region. The Chinese embassy here in Washington did not
respond to VOA requests for comment on the allegations.

Human rights activist John Isom says Qinghai Province once had about
600,000 nomads. He says official figures show that about 90 percent
of them have been removed from their grasslands. Beijing says it
plans to complete the relocation of the remaining several thousand
Tibetan herders next year.
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