Police in China’s southwestern Sichuan province have responded with lethal force to a group of Tibetans protesting the expansion of a gold mining operation they say is harming the environment, according to Tibetan sources.
At least four people were killed when police officers opened fire on a crowd outside the Palyul (in Chinese, Baiyu) county government offices in Sichuan’s Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous prefecture, sources said.
As many as 30 Tibetan protesters were wounded in the Aug. 17 shooting, with some believed to be critically injured and receiving medical care in the provincial capital of Chengdu.
The number of dead in the incident could not be independently confirmed.
Drakpa Yeshe, a Tibetan based in Nepal, said Aug. 25 that he had spoken recently with relatives in the area.
“Lately I heard that about four people died in the shooting in the Palyul incident,” Drakpa Yeshe said.
“Those who were seriously injured were taken to a hospital in Chengdu. Among them, two are reported in serious condition.”
Drime Gyaltsen, a Tibetan monk living in India, said he was informed by sources in Palyul that additional security forces had been sent to the area to quell further unrest.
“Additional forces arrived from the neighboring Kardze and Dege counties. Right now all the roads leading to Palyul are blocked and residents are not allowed to move about freely,” he said.
An on-duty officer who answered the phone at the Palyul police station said he had only recently joined the force and was not fully informed regarding the confrontation.
“That incident is not resolved yet. I don’t know the details. You can call tomorrow when our senior officials come to our office,” he said.
Drime Gyaltsen said that on or around Aug. 13 a group of Tibetans from Tromtar township’s Sharchu Gyashoe village, led by village leader Tashi Sangpo, traveled to the Palyul county government headquarters to express concerns about an increase in mining activities in the area.
The group complained that gold mining operations by the Chinese-owned Kartin Company had led to an overcrowded population, severely degraded the fertility of their farmland, and adversely affected the local grassland habitat.
“The county officials refused to hear their plea and, instead of listening to them, had the petitioners detained,” Drime Gyaltsen said.
“The Tibetan villagers saw this as deliberate bullying, and about 40 additional Tibetans arrived at the Palyul county center demanding the release of those detained and calling for officials to compensate them for the destruction of their land,” he said.
The group picketed in front of the county government office for three days, and in the early hours of the fourth day police used an incapacitating gas on the crowd and attempted to take them away in waiting vehicles, Drime Gyaltsen said.
“When some of the protesters affected by the gas were being forced into the vehicles, their comrades who were unaffected … resorted to shouting and began protesting. At that time, the police fired their weapons,” he said.
“The first target was Tashi Sangpo … He was shot in the leg and his relatives rushed to his aid. In the commotion and shooting, one Tibetan was killed outright, and about 30 were injured. Among them five were reported seriously hurt.”
“In the scuffle two police were also injured. One was wounded in the eye and the other suffered injuries to his hand and legs.”
According to a report by Tibetan website phayul.com, three Tibetans were killed in the shooting, including Tashi Sangpo’s relatives Soeso and Papho.
An official of the Palyul county government said in a telephone interview that negotiations with the Tibetan protesters are ongoing.
“Regarding that incident, some compromises have been made and negotiations are being conducted,” the official said.
“We are aware that the mining activities are negatively impacting the natural environment. The Chinese government is taking action to investigate the mining activities.”
Kartin, a Shanghai-based mining company, has been operating gold mines in the area for nearly 20 years, but enlarged to large-scale capacity in August 2006.
Over the past four years, the company has brought in increasing quantities of heavy machinery and equipment to expand its operations.
The majority of the company’s employees are from Shanghai.
In addition to concerns about pollution and the environment, local Tibetans are also concerned about the mining expansion leading to increased natural disasters in the area.
Nearby Drukchu (in Chinese, Zhouqu) county in Gansu province and Gyegudo (in Chinese, Yushu) county in Qinghai province both recently experienced severe earthquakes and mudslides that some Tibetans in the area believe were partially caused by mining and land excavation.
Tibet, whose Chinese name Xizang means “Western Depository,” is one of China’s largest national sources of gold.
Mining operations in Tibetan regions of China 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.
Original reporting by RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.