HONG KONG—Hundreds of Tibetans staged a rare public protest in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan during the lunar new year holiday, known as Losar, according to sources in the region.
Hundreds of monks and nuns from Gede and Se monasteries, and the Mani nunnery, staged a sit-in in Ngaba township [in Chinese, Aba] on Feb. 14.
"Yes, [the Tibetans held a sit-in]," said one Ngaba resident.
"The Tibetans have all left. Gone home."
A second resident, asked if armed police were dispatched to the scene, replied, "Yes, yes, lots of them."
Dekyi Dolma, a nun whose hometown is in Ngaba but who currently lives in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala, said as many as eight or nine monasteries and nunneries were involved in the protest.
"They staged the sit-in because the authorities never accounted for the whereabouts of the many Tibetans who were detained in March 2008," she said, referring to detentions made during a wave of unrest in Tibetan regions under Chinese rule, sparked by riots in Lhasa earlier that month.
"Three people were detained [following the sit-in]," she said.
"The Tibetans were surrounded by ... armed police with guns. Nuns and children and the elderly joined in the sit-in."
"Those detained were staging a peaceful sit-in," she added.
Much of Tibet has been under tight security since a peaceful demonstration by monks in 2008 in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, was violently suppressed, leading to a riot that left at least 22 dead according to Chinese authorities, ignited protests in three neighboring provinces, and prompted Beijing to dramatically increase its troop presence in the region.
The Tibetan government-in-exile in India says about 220 Tibetans died and nearly 7,000 were detained in the subsequent region-wide crackdown.
The protesters had dispersed by the end of the day, according to Tibetan sources, who said local authorities had sent government officials from each of the monasteries to mediate, and to persuade the monks and nuns to return home.
Police threw a security cordon around the town, blocking all nearby roads.
Tsering, a Tibetan monk living in exile in Dharamsala, said police and demonstrators numbered in the hundreds, with many more police.
"It was only for one day, the 14th," he said, citing local witnesses.
Calls to police stations in the Ngaba region went unanswered Thursday.
An official who answered the phone at the Ngaba prefectural religious affairs bureau declined to comment.
"I know nothing," he said. "You got the wrong number. It didn't happen. I have not heard about it."
Sethar Tsultrim, a Tibetan now living in Dharamsala, said armed police in his native Khekor, Seda township, tried unsuccessfully to detain two Tibetan youths who argued when police tried to take down a Tibetan flag that had been hung on an electrical post on Feb. 14.
He identified the two youths as Rinchen Dorje, 23, and Drukchung, 24. Another Tibetan source provided a consistent account of those events.
This week, Tibetans inside China risked persecution to burn incense, pray, and raise Buddhist prayer flags ahead of the first meeting between their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and U.S. President Barack Obama on Feb. 18.
Braving tighter security by Chinese authorities who regard the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist, Tibetans crowded into the Barkhor area of Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and the epicenter of a 2008 uprising against Chinese rule.
Witnesses reported stepped-up security beginning Feb. 17, including several hundred armed personnel in the city.
Residents of Ngaba refused to celebrate Losar in 2009 in protest at detentions following the 2008 protests in the region.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long, and by RFA's Tibetan service. Director: Jigme Ngapo. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated from the Chinese by Luisetta Mudie and from the Tibetan by Karma Dorjee. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.