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Villagers Renew Mine Protests

May 14, 2010


Did a 2009 deal to halt mine operations fall through?


Environmental damage caused by years of mining near Lhasa. Undated Photo: Woeser
KATHMANDU—Tibetan villagers in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of western China have renewed protests against mining operations on mountains they consider sacred, despite a strong presence by armed Chinese police, according to Tibetan sources in the region.


The three mines targeted for protests are located at Tsongshen, Choeten, and Deshoe in Markham [in Chinese, Mangkang] county in the TAR. Markham was the site of similar protests last year against mining on a mountain called Ser Ngul Lo.

“Since May 8, China has imposed a virtual blackout in Tsongshen in Markham,” one source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Work teams from [the Tibetan regional capital] Lhasa and officials from Chamdo and Markham have arrived at the site to facilitate the mining, and officials have searched Tibetan homes.”

Another local Tibetan source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said large crowds have tried to stop the mining.

“Thousands of local Tibetans—young, old, men, and women alike—have attempted to block the Chinese from resuming mining activities,” the source said.

“But TAR Party Secretary Zhang Qingli has given orders to ahead with the mining, even if this means using force against protesters,” the source said.

Five injured

Local Tibetans believe that Zhang maintains links with the mining company, although this was impossible to confirm.

“Tibetans have set aside their farming to defend the sacred mountains from exploitation,” another source said, also asking not to be named.

Five protesters—two women and three men—were reportedly injured in the protests. One attempted to kill himself with a broken bottle, the source said. The others were beaten and tear-gassed by police, he added.

“With more troops being called in, it will be difficult to prevent the mining,”  the man added. “Right now there are about five thousand troops in Tsongshen, and more reinforcements are expected.”

A Markham police official, reached for comment, replied: “It is not a big issue. Everything is OK. Who are you?” He then hung up the phone.

Movements of People’s Armed Police or other armed Chinese security forces in the area could not be independently confirmed.

In 2009, Tibetan residents complained and protested after authorities gave a Chinese mining and lumbering firm, Zhongkai Co., permission to excavate the area.

Tibetans have historically worshipped at the site known as Ser Ngul Lo [“Year of Gold and Silver” in Tibetan], conducting rituals there in the event of drought, residents say.

Talks ultimately resolved the standoff after both sides agreed that the mine would cease operations, but questions remained regarding the disposal of poisonous waste at the site, according to sources in the region.

Detentions reported

On May 4, four Tibetan businessmen and a monk from Markham were detained in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, a Tibetan source said, also on condition that he not be named.  Eight Tibetans who went to petition in the Sichuan provincial capital Chengdu were then also detained, he said.

"This happened on the same day when the TAR ordered the mining company to resume its activities in the three major sites in Markham."

"All of those detained were Tibetan businessmen and leading figures who successfully blocked the Chinese mining company in 2009," he said.

Original reporting by RFA's Tibetan Kham service. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Translations by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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