Authorities in a Tibetan-populated county in southwestern China’s Sichuan province have detained four village leaders following protests against a Chinese mining company’s attempt to seize land for operations in the area, according to sources in the region and in exile.
Identified as Thupga, Gade, Kyamo, and Jamyang, the men were taken into custody on April 21 by Palyul (in Chinese, Baiyu) county police in Barchung village in the Tromthar township of Kardze (Ganzi) prefecture, a local resident told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Wednesday.
“Police said the four were detained because they had committed actions against [China’s] constitution,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“But the real reason was the refusal by local Tibetans to sell land to Chinese miners for the excavation of gold in the area,” 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.
For many years, a Chinese company had tried to force the sale by Tibetans of land in a part of Palyul called Shawathang, the source said.
“Toward the end of February, the Chinese became more aggressive in their efforts to take over the land, but the Tibetans, led by those four men, organized a protest rally against the Chinese plan,” he said.
“They insisted that the Chinese would not be allowed to dig mines in their area.”
After county authorities threatened protest participants with “serious consequences” for their action, some protesters fled into the hills for safety, a Tibetan living in India said, citing contacts in the area and also speaking on condition of anonymity.
“But after the situation calmed down a little, they came down from the hills and returned to town,” he said.
Police then detained the protest leaders, taking Thupga and Kyamo into custody at a place called Dokho, and seizing Gade at his home and Jamyang at a mining site called Gartsang, he said.
Nearly four years before, Palyul county police had responded with lethal force when another group of Tibetans protested the expansion of a gold mining operation they said was harming the environment.
At least four people were killed and 30 wounded in the Aug. 17, 2010 shooting when police opened fire on a crowd outside county government offices, sources said.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing’s rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the area in 2008.
A total of 131 Tibetans have also set themselves ablaze in self-immolation protests calling for Tibetan freedom since the wave of fiery protests began in February 2009, with another six setting fire to themselves in India and Nepal.
Reported by Lobsang Choephel for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.