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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?"

Tibetan monks ordered to leave China's quake zone

April 23, 2010

By ALEXA OLESEN (AP) – 15 hours ago

BEIJING — Earthquake survivors say the Tibetan monks helped first,
bringing food, pitching tents and digging through rubble after disaster
hit far western China a week ago, killing and injuring thousands.

Now the Buddhist monks who responded first are being pushed out of the
disaster area and off of state media — apparently sidelined by Beijing's
unease with their heroism and influence.

Monasteries were given verbal orders this week to recall their monks.
Amid hours of coverage for China's national day of mourning on
Wednesday, no monks were visible in the official proceedings.

It was a jarring omission in light of their contributions to the
weeklong rescue and relief effort following the quake, which killed
2,064 people and injured more than 12,000 others.

Tsebtrim, an ethnic Tibetan who works as a translator in Yushu, the
county in Qinghai province hit hardest by the April 14 quake, was among
thousands left homeless. He recalls heading to the horse racing grounds
shortly after the earthquake with hundreds of others who heard it would
be a safe place if the local dam broke.

"There were these monks from Sichuan's Ganzi who had put up all these
tents, 100 tents, in just a couple of hours and they provided drinks and
food," said Tsebtrim, 31, who like many Tibetans has one name. "That
night, a lot of people didn't have a place to stay so I am really glad
those monks showed up."

In the days that followed, Tsebtrim saw monks digging through rubble for
survivors or bodies, first alone and then with Chinese soldiers. He also
saw them handing out food and medicine.

"It really impressed me a lot," he said during an interview from Yushu,
where he is helping run an aid station.

Chinese military officials said this week nearly all the roughly 12,000
soldiers who rushed to the quake area struggled with altitude sickness
and many had trouble communicating with Tibetan survivors.
Tibetan-speaking monks, many of whom live in high-altitude areas or
frequently make pilgrimages to them, didn't have those problems.

They flooded into Yushu within hours, on motorbikes and packed in the
back of trucks.

On Saturday, they held a cremation ceremony, preparing hundreds of
bodies, praying and burning the corpses in a massive trench outside of
Yushu.

Yet state-run broadcasters have given scant attention to their efforts,
spotlighting instead the hard work of the military and the People's
Armed Police as they delivered tents, water and food, and lifted injured
people from cracks of crumbled buildings.

Monks also live in the quake zone, though they were not shown in media
coverage Wednesday.

Robbie Barnett, director of the modern Tibetan studies program at
Columbia University, said the monks' contributions pose a dilemma for
the communist leadership, which distrusts the Buddhist clergy because of
their loyalty to the Dalai Lama.

Beijing insists the Dalai Lama is fighting for independence for Tibet,
which the exiled spiritual leader denies.

Monasteries are tightly control by Communist Party authorities who
routinely order political re-education campaigns for the monks. The
tensions have occasionally erupted in violence.

"China has never faced this situation before, where the monks it has
demonized for 15 years as potential enemies of the state turn out to be
energetic contributors to social construction and community-building —
the same role that the party has always claimed for itself," Barnett
said in an e-mail.

"Perhaps that's why the work of the monks has been featured very little,
if at all," on China Central Television, he said.

On Wednesday, a monk and a Tibetan activist in touch with people in the
quake zone said monks from Ganzi in Sichuan and other surrounding areas
had also been ordered to leave the earthquake zone.

Yixi Luoren, the head of Ganzi's Gengqing Monastery, said 150 of their
monks went to Yushu but 120 had left by Wednesday on orders from the
Religious Affairs Bureau and the Communist Party United Front department
in Ganzi prefecture, where the monastery is located.

A rugged, deeply Buddhist region filled with monasteries and nunneries,
Ganzi is known for its strong Tibetan identity and has been at the
center of dissent for years.

"They told us to do so on the phone," Yixi Luoren said. "The authorities
didn't tell us the reason, but we assume they might have worried that
there are too many people there and wanted us to come home safely."

Radio Free Asia on Wednesday quoted a Tibetan man in Yushu as saying
monks held a candlelight vigil on April 19 that officials feared might
take on political significance. The report said the man had asked not to
be identified by name.

Woeser, a Beijing-based Tibetan poet and activist, said Han and Tibetan
acquaintances in the quake zone told her similar orders were given to
monks from several other monasteries. She said the monks were upset and
not willing to go but had no choice.

"A clear reason for the order wasn't given but it was very strict," said
Woeser, who also uses just one name. "Local officials told them through
translators in Tibetan 'You've done everything already. You've done too
much. You have to leave Yushu now, otherwise there will be trouble.'"

Woeser said local Tibetans were frustrated because they believe the
monks are still needed to help dig out the dead and perform funeral rites.

"There is an opportunity here for the state finally to recognize the
immense cultural resources that the monks can offer," said Barnett, the
Columbia University professor. "But it will take great cultural
sensitivity and compromise on both sides for that to be achieved."

Associated Press researcher Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this report.
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