Mine Standoff Said Resolved

Have talks settled a long-running dispute over plans to mine gold at a sacred Tibetan site?


Environmental damage caused by years of mining near Lhasa. Undated Photo: Woeser

HONG KONG—Talks have resolved a standoff over a planned gold mine in Tibet at a site Tibetans consider sacred, a local official has said, but Tibetan residents say tensions over the mine are escalating.

An official at the Markham [in Chinese, Mangkang] County Business Bureau, in the Tibetan Autonomous Region’s (TAR) Chamdo prefecture, said a protest involving several hundred Tibetans has nearly concluded.

“All county leaders are at the scene and the incident is almost over. The local people just have a different view [on the mining issue],” the official, who declined to be named, said in an interview.

“We settled the dispute through negotiations to make sure both parties are satisfied with the settlement—that is to say that the mining project should not cause environmental pollution in the future and that the local people will receive a certain amount of compensation.”

But Tibetan residents said tensions were escalating.

A delegation of Tibetan businessmen from Markham visiting Lhasa has meanwhile not yet returned home, one Tibetan source said, adding that the group had planned to threaten a sit-in at government offices in Lhasa, the Tibetan regional capital.

"They decided to go before the TAR office in Lhasa and protest that the Chinese authorities are harassing the Tibetans in Markham. [They want to] stop the mining plan,” the man, currently based in Lhasa, said.

"There is a bridge between the Tibetan protesters and the Chinese officials and security forces," another Tibetan resident said Thursday.

"Security personnel are stationed in the school compound. The school was closed and all 200 students were sent home. Now some of them had crossed over and forced their way to our side, but we are still resisting."

Tibetan youths stopped

On May 24, local sources said, security forces detained and beat one of the protesters, Sonam Wangdu, 52.

“He was severely beaten, but they didn’t detain him long and then released him,” one resident said.

Another said Tibetan protest organizers had told all protesters over the age of 60 and under the age of 18 to return home for their own safety.

Scores of younger Tibetans who said they planned to appeal their case to a higher authority in inner China tried to return home by motorbike from the protest site but local security forces stopped them, he said.

Sacred site

Residents say protests over the proposed mining plans have been under way for three to four months, following local authorities’ approval of Chinese mining and lumbering firm, Zhongkai Co., to excavate the area.

Tibetans have historically worshipped the site, known as Ser Ngul lo [“Year of Gold and Silver” in Tibetan], conducting rituals there in the event of drought, residents say.

Pema Thinley, vice chairman of the TAR Communist Party, was sent to Markham to try to convince the local population to accept the mine, one of the protesters said.

But residents continued protesting, and Pema Thinley was escorted back to Lhasa, the regional capital, on April 5.

On May 16, a contingent of police and security forces arrived, but as many as 500 Tibetans began blocking the road, according to residents there.

Since then, security forces have cut off protesters from the rest of the village and have blocked all telecommunications in the area. Calls to protesters weren’t connected.

Original reporting by Lobsang Choephel for RFA’s Tibetan service and Ding Xiao for RFA’s Mandarin service. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translation by Karma Dorjee, Jennifer Chou, and Jia Yuan. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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