KATHMANDU—Chinese authorities detained some 30 Tibetans in a remote area of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) after they attacked security vehicles brought in to quell protests over a mine, according to local sources.
The standoff occurred around May 21 in the U Yuk Sog Chen subdistrict of Namling [in Chinese, Nanmulin Xian] in Shigatse [Rikaze] prefecture, the sources said. An unnamed company had begun mining there in April, the sources said.
Mining operations have been under way in the area for several years, but this new mine sits on land traditionally used for grazing cattle—and residents say it has affected water supplies.
“The local Tibetans became desperate and appealed to the local leaders to stop the mining activities. They explained how the mining activities in the area affect the local environment, the supply of drinking water, and the grazing ground for their cattle,” one source said.
“The Tibetans protested and appealed repeatedly for an end to the mining, but the authorities didn’t listen and brought in armed security forces to silence them,” he said. Another source said 10 armed police vehicles soon arrived.
“The Tibetans were so desperate that they attacked the vehicles carrying security forces with stones. The armed police retaliated by firing in the air and detained several Tibetans. Many of them were severely beaten.”
“Several fled to the hills or hid in other areas … The authorities detained 30 Tibetans in Shigatse detention center, but two of them have been moved and we don’t know where they are and haven’t heard from them since.”
The 30 remain in detention, sources said, although police contacted by telephone refused to comment.
Details about mining operations in the region are scarce, but several residents of Namling county said most mining firms operating locally are from Weifang city, Shandong province.
Asked if armed security forces were present in the wake of protests and clashes, one replied, “Some. There were a lot of them before, but fewer now.”
Another resident, a Tibetan man, said “many people” had been detained.
Several sources described a significant police presence and military-style drills in Namling.
Authorities went house to house on May 22, another source said, and insisted that the mining should go ahead—which prompted protests.
“The authorities responded by deploying 10 vehicles full of security forces. They threatened them by firing three times in the air. The Tibetans spit at the vehicles,” the source said,
Security officer’s blog
A police staffer of the Armed Police Force in Namling county contacted by telephone said Tibetans in the area had first protested against the local mining operations last month.
The officer said some roads near the mine site were currently being blocked by police, while roadblocks had been erected on others.
“We will have to wait around a month [for the roadblocks to be lifted]," he said.
Asked if any protesters were arrested, he said that the armed police had not been deployed to the site of the protests and that further questions should be referred to the Public Security Bureau. But the officer did say that a large number of police remained on guard in Namling and U Yuk Sog Chen.
He said he was not permitted to discuss whether the authorities planned to dispatch more police officers to U Yuk Sog Chen.
“Tibetans are not allowed to come out of there,” he said.
An officer on duty at the Namling county Public Security Bureau declined to comment when contacted by phone.
“It is inconvenient and inappropriate for us to say because at the time … if you have questions about this incident, go directly to the director of the bureau,” the officer said, when asked about the detentions.
“We have no right to speak about this. If you have any questions, please come here. Okay?”
In a May 21 blog posting on sina.com, however, a contributor who identified himself as a public security officer in Shigatse, Wu Chengjian, wrote:
“It’s been a while since there was a case. Life was getting boring … This morning after we arrived at work we received an urgent notice to meet in front of the building. Public security and armed police have been summoned to quell disturbances by villagers who had surrounded the township government’s land commission in a protest against state mining operation.”
“During the frightening clash, the villagers threw stones at us nonstop; they spat on us. Many were injured,” he wrote.
“When it all ended, more than 50 villagers who instigated trouble were detained. Even though we were feeling fatigued, we began more than 20 hours of interrogation. This mass incident was not the first such incident locally. It happens every year. Every year we have engaged in negotiations. The government cannot be weak. After much restraint, it acted for real!!!”
Original reporting by Dolkar for RFA’s Tibetan service, by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service, and by RFA's Cantonese service. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated from the Tibetan by Karma Dorjee, from the Mandarin by Jennifer Chou, and from the Cantonese by Shiny Li. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.