Fears Over Monastery Siege

Dharamsala calls on Chinese authorities to lift a blockade against Tibetan monks in Sichuan.
2011-04-14
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Kirti Monastery in an undated photo.
Kirti Monastery in an undated photo.
Photo sent by a listener in Tibet

The Tibetan government-in-exile called on Thursday for an end to the siege of a major monastery in China's southwestern province of Sichuan, sparked by the death of a monk last month in a self-immolation protest against Beijing's rule.

"We think that the Chinese government should face up to reality and understand the demands of the Tibetan people," said Sangye Kyab, a Chinese-language spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharamsala.

"The results will be unimaginable if this situation continues in the same manner," he said.

Local Tibetans spent the night camped outside the monastery on Wednesday, according to exiled sources.

"On [Wednesday] evening a lot of local Tibetan people remained outside Kirti monastery, spending the night there," said Dharamsala-based monk and International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) member Tsoge.

"This was because the military was planning to take away the monks inside the monastery. We don't know today whether they have done so or not."

Local officials denied the reports, while local residents of Ngaba appeared too frightened to talk.

"There was no such incident," said an officer who answered the phone at the Ngaba township police department. "If you want to understand any of what is going on in Ngaba prefecture, you must do so through the proper channels."

Asked to confirm the clashes, injuries and reported deaths, he said: "I can't answer any of that for you. I have no duty to answer your questions."

A senior officer from the Ngaba county Public Security Bureau refused to give any details about the clash, though he did not deny the incidents at Kirti monastery and the surrounding area.

"China is a country with laws. To maintain law and stability, we will not hesitate to go any length and make sacrifices," he said.

Scant information

An employee who answered the phone at the local Ngaba high school hung up immediately on hearing the RFA reporter's identity.

A Tibetan resident of Ngaba also hung up after saying: "I don't know about that."

Tsoge said anyone caught taking calls from outside the region or talking to people outside the region would be in trouble with the authorities.

"Most people would be too frightened to accept a call like that," he said. "Especially when it came to talking about their own situation."

Sangye Kyab said no one was being allowed in or out of Kirti monastery.

"The entire monastery has been sealed off with barbed wire, and the monks inside are being prevented from leaving," he said.

"People on the outside aren't allowed in, either. The whole monastery is just like a prison."

Sangye Kyab confirmed reports that two elderly Tibetan women had been killed in a standoff between security forces and local people.

"We heard yesterday that local residents surrounded the monastery after the military had planned to go into the monastery and take some of the monks away to other regions," he said.

"The police set their dogs on them, and two elderly people were injured and later died."

Call for restraint

The exiled head lama of Kirti called on local people to avoid violent retaliation.

"I appeal to you consider that confrontation simply heaps even more suffering on ourselves," he said in a statement translated and published by ICT.

He called on Tibetans "to frame whatever action you take within the parameters of nonviolence."

But he added: "The ongoing repression of ordinary people, both monks and laity, driven by desperation into confrontation with the Chinese army is indeed hard to bear."

Meanwhile, Sangye Kyab called on the international community to express concern over the siege at Kirti.

"These are the cruel and barbarous tactics which the Chinese Communist Party employs in ruling Tibet," he said. "The controls at Kirti have been very strict ever since the [Tibetan uprising of] 2008."

Kirti's sister monastery in exile in India issued a statement on Wednesday condemning the violence.

"Armed troops in conjunction with government officials are currently enforcing a brutal clampdown on Kirti monastery in Ngaba, depriving it of all freedom and reducing it to desperation," said the statement, released by ICT.

"We call for the cessation of such brutal methods nationwide, and especially in the ethnic minority regions," the statement, signed by "the Lama of Kirti Monastery in exile," said.

"There are not enough prisons or soldiers in the land to maintain such a course indefinitely."

Sangye Kyab said that the government-in-exile supports the lama's statement.

"The Chinese government's oppression of the Tibetan people is very serious," he said.

"The Tibetans aren't allowed to express even the smallest bit of dissatisfaction with the Chinese government, or they will take extreme measures like these."

Monastery face-off

A monk from Kirti's sister monastery in India identified as Tsering said through an interpreter that the authorities had announced in recent days that they planned to move the majority of Kirti's monks elsewhere.

A major face-off ensued on Tuesday after local Tibetans who had come to bring food to the monks saw around 40 busloads of military personnel near the monastery, and rushed to block the monastery entrance, believing that they were about to start arresting monks.

The armed police began beating some of the Tibetans, who were also bitten by some of their dogs, exile sources said.

Two elderly Tibetan women in their sixties died in the clashes, according to exile sources in contact with Ngaba.

The tense standoff lasted about three hours, with the authorities sending further police reinforcements to the scene from surrounding areas.

Police were also carrying out door-to-door and person-to-person checks on the local population.

"The Tibetans thought that they were going in to arrest [the monks], and they all rushed over to block the path of the military vehicles," Tsering said via an interpreter.

"Those people had with them specially trained dogs, and they let them loose to bite people. A lot of people were injured," he said.

Tsering said the government had been hoping to send monks of ages over 18 and under 40 to other locations to receive "patriotic education," under a regionwide government program.

As many as 2,000 armed police have been stationed in the vicinity of Kirti since last week, he said. All religious activities have also been stopped.

Gansu siege

In Gansu, a similar siege was under way at a middle school where students demonstrated in November in support of continued Tibetan-language classes, an exile source said.

Gonpo, a researcher at Dharamsala's Norbulingka Institute, said that security had been stepped up outside a Tibetan high school in Machu township in the remote western province of Gansu.

"I heard the armed police were still outside [the school] in Machu," Gonpo said.

"The school was closed for a few days. When they came back to class, the students were confined in the courtyard of the school and prevented from leaving [campus]."

"The students who live in the town are being allowed home at night, but those whose homes are in the countryside are having to board at the school."

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service, Hai Nan for the Cantonese service, and Lobsang Choephel for the Tibetan service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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