Town Besieged After Shooting

Protests spread among Tibetans challenging rule by Beijing.

2012-01-27
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Tharpa, whose detention for putting up anti-China posters sparked protests.
Photo courtesy of Kanyag Tsering.

Chinese security forces have encircled a town in a Tibetan part of the southwestern province of Sichuan after the latest in a string of killings of Tibetan protesters, as unrest continues to spread across the region, exile sources said.

"A huge contingent of Chinese police and armed soldiers have surrounded Barma township and other nearby villages and confined Tibetans to the area and are stopping them from leaving the area," Kanyag Tsering, a monk based in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala with close ties to his home region of Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba), said in a written statement.

In the statement, Tsering and his fellow monk Lobsang Yeshe said they had identified the person reportedly shot dead by Chinese police on Thursday as Ugyen, 20, son of Poethar, a local nomad.

"His family lives in Shoeda village, Barma township of Dzamthang (in Chinese, Rangtang) county in Ngaba," Lobsang Yeshe said. "He and Tharpa, who put up posters and distributed protest leaflets, were schoolmates."

He said four monks from nearby Lhawang monastery had been detained, and it was unclear whether the family had been able to reclaim Ugyen's body.

Killed in standoff

Ugyen was killed during a standoff with Chinese police, who had arrived to detain Ugyen's former classmate, Tharpa, who had put up posters in support of a recent string of self-immolations by Tibetans protesting against Chinese rule, according to Kanyag Tsering.

"Around 12.00 p.m. local time ... Tharpa, the son of Ripung Norma, put up posters and leaflets with his photo and name on them," Tsering said. "In the poster he wrote that Tibetans had set themselves on fire  to achieve freedom for Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet."

"Until that goal is achieved, the Tibetan movement will not cease. You communist Chinese can arrest me," the posters and leaflets said.

Ugyen was shot as several hundred Tibetans tried to prevent the police from taking Tharpa away later that day, Kanyag Tsering said.

Larger rally

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Tsangyang Gyatso, a Tibetan in Dharamsala, India, with close contact with Dzamthang residents, said that Ugyen's death had brought more Tibetans from the surrounding countryside to Dzamthang to hold another protest rally attended by an estimated 10,000 Tibetans.

"The Tibetans were from the Dzitoe and Dzime areas of Dzamthang county," Tsangyang Gyatso said. "An estimated 10,000 Tibetans were at the rally, and the situation was said to be extremely tense," he added.

An official who answered the phone at the Dzamthang county government declined to comment on the reports.

"We don't know the actual details," the official said. "I'm sorry, but you'll have to call a different number."

An officer who answered the phone at the Dzamthang county police department said the reports were "rumors."

"Go and listen to the reports from the [state-run] Xinhua news agency," he said, before hanging up.

Protest spreads

Meanwhile, Tibetans in Qinghai’s Golog (in Chinese, Guoluo) Tibetan prefecture also turned out in large numbers on Thursday to protest against Chinese rule, exile sources with contacts in the region said.

"At around 11.00 a.m., the Tibetans marched towards the township government [in Pema county], pulled down the Chinese flag, put up a Buddhist flag, and displayed a photo of the Dalai Lama," Tsangyang Gyatso said.

"Not long afterward, 16 Chinese police vehicles of different sizes arrived at the town and restricted Tibetan activities," he said.

Shops and restaurants in Pema county have been closed and the entire area placed under security lockdown since police foiled an attempt by a local monk to self-immolate.

"Chinese security forces are stationed at the main gates and bridges in the area and are checking every Tibetan who passes through the checkpoints,"
Tsangyang Gyatso said.

Aggressive response


Chinese security forces have become more aggressive in containing Tibet protests, with two Tibetans reported killed by official Chinese media in protests in the Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on Monday and Tuesday.

Rights and exile groups believe at least six were killed and 60 injured, some critically, in Draggo (in Chinese, Luhuo) and Serthar (in Chinese, Seda) counties.

Kalsang, an MP in the Tibetan parliament-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, said the whole area is now under tight military control. "The strictest military controls are being imposed in three counties: Serthar, Kardze, and Draggo," he said.

"The Dartsendo (in Chinese, Kangding) and Lithang (in Chinese, Litang) areas are also on full-scale military alert."

Advocacy groups said it was the largest reported shooting of Tibetans since bloody protests against Chinese rule in March 2008. Chinese official media blamed the unrest on "mobs" armed with knives and stones who had "opened fire" on local police.

Police have also tightened security in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, stepping up checks on Tibetans from outside the city, residents said this week.

Kalsang said that a youth had been detained in Lhasa on Wednesday after he handed out leaflets in the Barkhor market area near Jokhang Temple.

"This young lad ... was detained by police at the time," Kalsang said.

A resident of the Barkhor market area said many people had gathered at the scene of the man's detention.

"There were a lot of people watching," he said, adding, "There have been very large numbers of police lately, and things have been very strict."

"There are police everywhere, and we have to register with our ID card if we want to go out."

He said armed police and riot police were making regular patrols of the city streets.

Canceled leave

According to Kalsang, all government and Party officials in affected areas had had their leave canceled. "[They] have all had to go back to work," he said.

China's ruling Communist Party has already deployed "working groups" into every village and monastery in Kardze and Ngaba prefectures, according to Jampel Monlam, assistant director of the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Dharamsala.

"The police are on 24-hour alert in all the villages and monasteries, to maintain stability," he said. "They had stability meetings yesterday and the day before to discuss spot checks on armed police outposts."

Reported by Chakmo Tso and Lobe for RFA's Tibetan service, by Qiao Long for the Mandarin service, and Hai Nan for the Cantonese service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie and Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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