The death this week of a Tibetan villager who threw himself from a building in Tibet’s Chamdo prefecture to oppose construction of a Chinese mine has sparked a wider protest, with area residents demonstrating outside local government offices and another man attempting suicide in their bid to scrap the project, Tibetan sources in exile said.
Phakpa Gyaltsen, 32, jumped to his death on Wednesday in Dzogang (in Chinese, Zuogang) county’s Tongbar town after stabbing himself twice when authorities attempted to halt his protest, sources said.
Gyaltsen had told local Tibetans he would “do something” to oppose Chinese plans to excavate gold in an area of Dzogang near Madok Tso called Ache Jema, where villagers had worked in groups of three to guard the site from miners, one source said.
Following Gyaltsen’s death, area residents gathered in front of Tongbar government offices to demand a halt to the Chinese plans to build a mine, a Tibetan living in Europe told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Thursday, citing local sources.
“The Tibetan protest against the mining project is still going on,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Many Tibetans are sitting in front of the Tongbar town government center in Dzogang,” he said, adding, “This could go on for some time, and it could happen that more lives are lost in the protest.”
Gestures of support
After Gyaltsen’s body was returned to his family in Tongbar town’s Gewa village, many area residents came to the family home to express their sympathy and offer help, RFA’s source said.
“At that time, a Tibetan named Rigdzin climbed onto the roof of Phakpa Gyaltsen’s house and tried to kill himself with a knife, but his brother Sonam stopped him and rushed him to Chamdo hospital where he is now being treated.”
“Because none of the vital parts of his body were hurt, he may still survive,” he said.
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.
'Willing to die'
Chinese authorities had claimed that construction in the Tongbar area was only work in preparation for the building of a dam, but “Tibetans later came to learn of their real plan to mine gold,” another source in exile said, also citing local contacts.
“Around 20 Tibetans who had guarded the mine site were detained in the town center,” he said.
“And now, following Phakpa Gyaltsen’s death, around 60 Tibetan women from Gewa village have staged a protest outside government offices to call on authorities to halt the mining.”
“They have said that they too are willing to die if their demands are not met,” he said.
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 Chinese rule and call for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Reported by Sopea Gyatso for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.