Five Chinese nationals have been detained following an apparent attempt to steal valuable religious artifacts from a Buddhist monastery in Tibet, according to Tibetan sources.
The incident occurred at around midnight on March 3, two days before the Tibetan Lunar New Year, a local man said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The would-be thieves had tried to break into the Drongsar monastery in Pashoe county [in the Chamdo prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region], “where the scrolls of protector deities are kept,” he said.
“When monk guards sounded the alarm, the men fled in the dark, but one fell from a ladder and injured his leg.”
The man was nabbed near the monastery in the ensuing pursuit and handed over to local police, the source said.
Two other suspects were detained in the nearby town of Pema, where they work in a restaurant, the man said, and another two were detained by Chinese police near the Pomda airport.
Reached for comment, a high-ranking Pashoe county court official said only that "four Chinese nationals" were being held in connection with the attempted burglary and that Chinese police were investigating the break-in.
Suspects ‘tracked down’
Tashi Dorjee, a Tibetan living in exile in India and citing his own contacts in the region, said that police tracked down the last four men by using the phone record of the first suspect’s cell phone.
“All five suspects are now being held at the Pema police station,” he said.
The men had “appeared to be well prepared with ladders and other equipment to break in,” Tashi Dorjee said.
Following the attempted theft, “around 10 local Tibetan representatives, including delegates from the monastery and nearby town, went to the Pashoe county seat and appealed to officials to thoroughly investigate the case,” the first source said.
“They told the authorities that this attempt was similar in many ways to incidents that had occurred several months before,” including the theft in October from the same monastery of four religious scroll paintings, including one considered priceless.
“Several years ago, Nerang monastery in Pashoe was also a victim of theft,” he added. “So the local people assume the same suspects could be involved.”
But a Tibetan monk named Tenpa, also living in exile in India and citing contacts in Tibet, said, “The Tibetans don’t believe that Chinese police officials will handle this issue seriously.”
Reported for RFA’s Kham Tibetan service by Soepa Gyaltso and Norbu Damdul. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.