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China Asks Monks to Leave Quake Area

April 26, 2010

By MICHAEL WINES, New York Times

BEIJING, April 23, 2010 (New York Times) -- Chinese authorities
confirmed Friday reports that they had asked Buddhist monks to end their
relief work in Qinghai, the province in central China?s highlands where
an earthquake last week left at least 2,187 people dead.

The officials disputed complaints from some monks that they were being
expelled for political reasons, saying that better-trained workers were
required for tasks like disease prevention and building reconstruction.

In a written response to questions from The Associated Press, the
central government?s State Council Information Office expressed
gratitude for the monks? rescue efforts. But ?it would bring more
difficulties to disaster relief work if lots of unprofessional personnel
were at the scene,? the statement added.

The state-run Xinhua news agency quoted the governor of Yushu
Prefecture, where the quake was centered, as saying that he knew of no
order to expel the monks. ?We did not give or receive any orders of such
kind,? the governor, Wang Yuhu, was quoted as saying. ?Actually, we are
very grateful for the role Tibetan monks played in the relief effort.?

The quake, which hit a sparsely populated plateau, injured more than
12,000 people, 9,145 of whom are still hospitalized, the Health Ministry
said Thursday.

Yushu Prefecture is home to perhaps 200 Buddhist temples, Xinhua
reported. But hundreds if not thousands of monks had streamed into Yushu
from surrounding areas to assist in rescue work after the earthquake
struck early on April 14.

Buddhist monks ran most of the early rescue operations in Jiegu, a city
of 100,000 near the quake?s epicenter. As rescues of survivors dwindled,
the monks have supervised mass cremations and the mandatory three-day
period of mourning.

For days, the monks conducted their work with little or no interference
from officials. But some complained this week that Chinese Army
personnel and other government officials had begun to elbow them out of
rescue and relief efforts. They said the government wanted to cast the
rescue operations not as an indigenous effort, but as a generous gesture
from the central government to the region?s ethnic Tibetan population.

Tensions between China?s majority ethnic Han population and ethnic
Tibetans have run high for decades, although relations in Yushu, where
97 percent of residents are Tibetan, are said to be better than in many
neighboring areas.

Chinese officials have long accused the Dalai Lama of leading a movement
to separate Tibet from China. An outbreak of ethnic rioting two years
ago in Tibet and other ethnic Tibetan areas, including Qinghai, only
reinforced those fears.

The government has taken pains this week to stress China?s sympathy for
quake victims, declaring a national day of mourning and sending top
government officials to the disaster site.
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