Chinese authorities have cracked down on villagers opposed to mining projects in Tibet’s Chamdo county, deploying hundreds of armed police and detaining those who had petitioned higher levels of authority for a halt to the extraction activity, according to local sources.
News of the crackdown in early March in Chamdo (in Chinese, Changdu) county's Lathok township in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) was delayed by obstacles to communications from the area, and comes as Tibetans in neighboring Dzogang (Zuogang) county mount ongoing mining protests of their own, sources said.
“Chinese officials and armed paramilitary police have cracked down both openly and in secret on Tibetans protesting against mining operations in Lathok,” a resident of the area told RFA’s Tibetan Service, naming Lathok’s Chaklung and Yulchu villages as the main targets for repression.
“Many Tibetans have been beaten and detained, and many have been held in a detention center without food,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We have been trying to send this information to you for some time.”
Tibet—called Xizang, or Western Treasure, by China—has become an important source of minerals needed for China’s economic growth, and mining operations in Tibetan regions have led to frequent standoffs with Tibetans who accuse Chinese firms of disrupting sites of spiritual significance and polluting the environment as they extract local wealth.
Chinese officials had visited Lathok as early as 2006 to check for ore samples and had tried at first to gain local support for mining with promises of compensation, the source said.
“But the Tibetans protested and resented the presence of officials and workers in the area.”
After months of road construction to excavation sites, supported by official threats that resistance to mining operations would bring “violent punishment,” local Tibetans “drafted a letter to China’s central government and sent it on March 5,” a second local source told RFA.
Similar petitions were sent that same day to TAR authorities and to officials of Chamdo prefecture, in which Chamdo county lies, the source said, identifying those sending the letters as Atrung, Sonam Tobgyal, Jamyang Dorje, Tashi Dorje, Lhaje Olha, Dega, and Tashi Gyurme.
“A few days later, the authorities detained 30 Tibetans from Lathok, including those responsible for sending the petitions, and subjected them to extreme hardships,” he said.
“The two who had volunteered to send the petition to the central government were starved by being given only a minimal amount of food for 20 days, and all villages and monasteries in the Lathok area were sternly warned that they will not be allowed to stop the mining work.”
Separately, on March 8, Chamdo county official Noru Dondrub “arrived in Lathok with 500 armed paramilitary police and cracked down on villagers in the area of Chulung,” he said.
'Efforts to control'
Meanwhile, demonstrations continue in neighboring Dzogang county’s Tongbar town, where a local man on May 7 stabbed himself and jumped from a building to his death to oppose operations in the area by Chinese mining firms, sources said.
“On May 10, over 300 Tibetans both young and old gathered at the town center to protest,” one local source told RFA.
“Officials are making every effort to control and restrict the Tibetans’ means of communication, with phone numbers being listed and threats being made of ‘serious consequences’ if information is shared with contacts outside the area,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
After last week’s fatal protest by Phakpa Gyaltsen, 32, a local Tibetan named Rigdzin also stabbed himself in protest, “but he was saved and taken to hospital,” he said.
“The hospital where he is being treated is now constantly watched by security personnel, and other Tibetans are not allowed to see him. So his present condition is unclear.”
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing’s rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008, with 131 Tibetans to date self-immolating to protest Beijing’s rule and call for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Reported by Kunsang Tenzin and Lumbum Tashi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.