Authorities in northwest China’s Qinghai province have detained 27 Tibetans for opposing Chinese mining operations that had run beyond the expiration of a leasing contract and had begun to encroach on sacred sites, sources said.
The residents of Karsel village in Chabcha (in Chinese, Gonghe) county in the Tsolho (Hainan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture were taken into custody two weeks ago after they vowed to block any further Chinese mining of white marble in their area, a local resident told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Tuesday.
“[They] announced their intention to protect their land and environment and began to interfere with the mining,” the resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“So on June 6 and 7, police arrived from Chabcha county and detained 27 Tibetans, including two village leaders named Trothar and Barma,” the source said, adding, “Four were later released, but 23 are still being held.”
Chinese miners had been digging for white marble in the Karsel village area since about 1989, but then continued to excavate even after the end of a contract that allowed them to work, the source said.
“The contract expired this year,” he said. “So the Tibetans resisted the extension of the mining work after the excavations began to adversely affect the local environment.”
This is the largest reported opposition to a Chinese mining activity in a Qinghai Tibetan area in nearly a year.
Last August, hundreds of Tibetan villagers blocked work at three mining sites—Atoe, Dzachen, and Chidza—in Dzatoe county, sparking clashes with Chinese security forces that left eight detained and dozens injured.
Tibetan residents of Dzatoe have long regarded the mountains in their area targeted for mining as the abodes of protective deities, and documents appearing to give central government approval for the work were later found to be fakes, one source had said.
Tibetan areas of China have become an important source of minerals needed for China’s economic growth, and mining operations 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.
In Karsel village in Chabcha county, the local resident who spoke to RFA said the mining site also had spiritual significance.
“There is a sacred place near the mining site where the local Tibetans worship and make offerings, fly prayer flags, and burn incense to please the local deities,” the source said.
“A cemetery is also located in this area. The mining work is being done right behind this cemetery and has now almost reached it.”
The digging at Karsel village has now also approached the edge of a second village, Gyara, he said.
Separately, a Tibetan now living in Europe confirmed the reported detentions, citing sources in his native Chabcha.
“I heard from my contact in Chabcha that many Tibetans from Karsel village were detained, and that some had even had their heads shaved [by police],” he said.
Meanwhile, preparations for mining continue in a county in the neighboring Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), where police earlier this month detained 60 men from a village rocked by protests over Chinese plans to excavate gold, sources said.
The protests in Gewar village, in the Tongbar township of Chamdo (Changdu) prefecture’s Dzogang (Zuogang) county, followed the death in May of a local Tibetan who stabbed himself and jumped from a building to oppose the mining project.
“Chinese authorities have not abandoned their work but are now accelerating their preparations for mining in the area,” a Tibetan living in exile told RFA, citing sources in his native Dzogang.
Construction of a bridge over the Gyalmo Ngulchu, or Salween, river “is going on full swing, and may be completed very soon,” he said, adding, “The Chinese have also brought excavating equipment into Yepa village, located on the other bank of the river, to search for gold.”
“More workers are arriving, and drilling has begun on a new tunnel at a site close to Lu village in the Tongbar township.”
“Explosives were used in the work, and the continuous detonations have damaged Tibetan homes in Yepa village,” he said.
The larger site now threatened by the mines has traditionally been used by the local Tibetan community for grazing their livestock, is home to a small monastery, and is also heavily forested, RFA’s source said.
Local opposition to the work has been weakened by the police roundup in early June of many of the male members of local families, he said.
“It seems that the Chinese authorities are now speeding up preparation for the mines while the Tibetans are still being held at the county detention center.”
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Chinese rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008, with 131 Tibetans to date setting themselves ablaze to oppose Beijing’s rule and call for the Dalai Lama’s return.
Reported by Kunsang Tenzin and Soepa Gyatso for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.