Chinese police have shot and killed a Tibetan man accused of stealing tents from a controversial construction site, triggering clashes between villagers and security forces in China’s northwestern Gansu province, local sources said Tuesday.
The clashes took place on Monday, a day after the shooting in Labrang county resulted in Tibetan protesters overrunning a police station, the sources said.
Additional security forces were called in and used tear gas to contain the protests, with many Tibetans injured and detained, according to the sources.
The situation added to growing tensions in Tibetan regions of China, including three self-immolations by Tibetans in the past week protesting rule by Beijing.
The dead man was identified by local sources as Gurgo Tseten, 35.
“On the night of Jan. 8, a group of Chinese police and security officials came to Nanba township in Labrang Achog in Labrang [in Chinese, Xiahe] county in Gansu, and shot Gurgo Tseten,” a local Tibetan said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Tseten had been visiting the family of another man, Gonpo Kyab, who was detained and taken away by police, the source said.
Chinese police suspected the two men of taking two tents that had been pitched at a site where the Chinese authorities are planning to build an airstrip despite protests by local Tibetans who claim the area is sacred, the man said.
“The Chinese authorities were planning to build an airstrip on the side of Amnye Gong Ngo mountain,” revered by Tibetans as a sacred site, the source said.
“Local Tibetans objected and resisted the project … residents of the Achog area also launched a strong protest.”
Though villagers presented evidence to show that the two men were not involved in the loss of the tents, “the Chinese police did not listen, and came to detain them,” he said.
Following the shooting, Tibetans ransacked the police station in nearby Achog Ngago township, damaging windows and doors, the source said.
“All the local police fled to the county center. Then special forces arrived in the area in 22 vehicles on the morning of Jan. 9.”
After an initial clash in which police fired tear gas, “many Tibetans were taken into custody, and many were injured,” the source said, adding that some police were also injured and that two or three vehicles were burned.
“Now, more armed police have arrived and are surrounding Ngago township,” he said.
Calls seeking comment from the Xiahe county Public Security Bureau and police department rang unanswered Tuesday.
A local resident, reached for comment, said only, “I don’t know. Please don’t ask me,” before hanging up the phone.
On Tuesday, Ngago township was still surrounded by Chinese armed police and other security forces, a second local source said, also speaking on condition of anonymity and describing Tibetan protesters as “aggressive and agitated.”
Before Gurgo Tseten was shot, area residents were already angered by the death in police custody of a young Tibetan who was detained while traveling by motorbike to Labrang, the source said.
“When there was a scuffle, the police beat him and held him in custody while his injuries went untreated. As a result, he succumbed to his injuries and died.”
For now, the Chinese security forces surrounding the town are only watching and have not made a further assault, he said.
“However, the Tibetans fear that they may be waiting for some order from above to crack down.”
Meanwhile, security remained tight in China's neighboring Golog prefecture as local Tibetans began a one-week prayer service for Sopa Tulku, a high-ranking religious figure who died Sunday in a self-immolation protest against Chinese rule, said Tibetan writer Woeser, writing in her blog Invisible Tibet.
"His remains have been placed at his monastery close to Darlag county and are clothed in traditional monk's robes and a ceremonial hat," Woeser said.
"After one week, his remains will be cremated."
"So many Tibetans have gathered to offer respect and pray for the late Sopa Tulku; all are holding scarves in their hands," Woeser said.
"All the monasteries in the Darlag region have begun special prayer rituals of their own, and each of the monasteries is sending a representative to visit the relatives of Sopa Tulku and offer condolences."
Woeser added that a group of officials from the Qinghai provincial level and the Golog prefectural level had also arrived and were staying at a nearby hotel.
"They will remain in the area for about a week," she said.
Reported by Thakla Gyal for RFA’s Tibetan service and Qiao Long for the Mandarin service. Translations by Karma Dorjee and Ping Chen. Written in English by Richard Finney.