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Clashing Views of Relief Work

April 22, 2010

HONG KONG—As the death toll passed 2,000 in last week’s earthquake in western China, official media focused on rare good news while Tibetan residents complained that their own Buddhist monks are doing most of the work while Chinese rescuers get the credit—and coverage.

Though Chinese rescue workers on the scene are experienced and have good equipment, “They are careless and spring into action only when they are being photographed,” a caller to RFA's Tibetan service said.

“The monks are very courageous and are determined to save lives, though they have no experience or equipment.”

“It would be good if the two could work together, but they can’t,” the caller named Tenzin said.

Tenzin added that Tibetan residents of the area have “100 percent” trust in the monasteries and believe that the distribution of aid to quake survivors should be entrusted to the monks.

The death toll from the quake has now climbed to 2,039, with more than 12,100 people listed as hurt, China's official Xinhua News Agency said.

Relief and reconstruction work has accelerated, with power and telecommunications services now largely restored and aid convoys arriving in droves.

Official media

The rescue of Wujian Cuomao, 68, and Cairen Baji, 4, from a crumbled home in a village about 13 miles (20 kms) from the hardest-hit town of Gyegu (in Chinese, Jiegu) was hailed by state media as a miracle and repeatedly played on television news broadcasts.

Footage showed workers in orange suits and safety helmets lifting the bewildered-looking white-haired woman onto a stretcher and into an ambulance.The visibly tired child lay wrapped in a blanket in the arms of a rescuer.

Also Monday, rescuers freed a Tibetan woman named Ritu from her collapsed house on a hillside, China Central Television (CCTV) said.

In Gyegu, thousands of Tibetan Buddhist monks picked at rubble with shovels, performed funeral rites, and threw food to survivors from the backs of trucks.

A surge in aid came as President Hu Jintao, who visited the area Sunday, promised that the Communist Party and government are doing everything they can to help the remote Tibetan region.

Monks’ efforts ignored

Local Tibetans meanwhile complained that Chinese rescue workers are unmotivated in helping Tibetan victims of the disaster, according to sources in the region.

Instead, untrained and underequipped Tibetan monks and residents are doing much of the work, sources said.

“I saw two people—and elderly man and a child—trapped underneath the rubble and calling out for help,” a Tibetan said, speaking on condition of anonymity.  “I asked for help from the police and from a Chinese rescue worker. but they said they had no time to help.”

“So Tibetan volunteers helped to pull them out,” he  said. “The child has a broken hand, but the old man died in hospital from his injuries.”

Separately, the  same source  said, two monks from nearby Gyegu monastery helped rescue three people who had been trapped for four days beneath a collapsed shop. Chinese rescue workers had earlier refused to help.

“The Chinese don’t have a good perception of Tibetans—especially with so many monks here,” he said.

Chinese authorities are restricting foreign journalists’ access to the areas of rescue work, the source added. “They are watching very closely for fear that all kinds of news will spread to the world.”

One youth said it took him 20 hours to return home from the the Qinghai provincial capital, Xining, to Yushu county.

“It took me 20 hours to get here …There are many roadblocks where they check IDs.  Without all the relevant ID, no one is allowed to pass.  I hardly saw any individuals and private cars along the highway.

“Most of the collapsed houses are the homes of regular folks.  It looks as if schools were the most severely damaged,” he said.

“When [President] Hu Jintao was visiting the area, everything was organized—it was like acting. He didn’t come to see the monks who were helping with the rescue effort. Now the most urgent need is tents, more tents.”

Another resident complained that China's official media omitted coverage “of the monks and locals helping out—they showed only the soldiers engaged in rescue operations.”

The caller identifying himself as Tenzin noted also that most of the buildings that collapsed in the quake belonged to poor Tibetan families, and that most of those killed were poor.

Original reporting by Sonam Wangdu and Tseten Dolkar for RFA's Tibetan service. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Translations by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han and Richard Finney.

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