HONG KONG—Tibetans called again for the return of their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in western China, amid a tight security clampdown as the Olympic torch passed through the restive region on its way to start the Games in Beijing.
Sources in the Tibetan county of Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) in Sichuan province said security was intense following a number of protests in recent days, with armed police descending quickly on sporadic demonstrators and detaining them, sometimes using tear-gas.
“They detained 14 people yesterday,” a Kardze monk said. “There weren’t many monks among them. Most of them were ordinary Tibetans. They were giving out leaflets calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, and for freedom for the Tibetan people.”
“The armed police descended on them as they were handing out these leaflets, grabbed them, and beat them. There were six separate attempts to hand out these leaflets during the course of a single day. All the shops in Kardze town were closed,” the monk said.
The Olympic torch arrived Tuesday in Xining, capital of western China’s Qinghai province, with the planned relay of 291 runners curtailed to just 8.8 kms from a planned length of 28.5 kms. The relay was also re-routed to avoid Ta’er Temple in Huangzhong county, the Dalai Lama’s childhood home.
“Each carrier just ran for about 10 meters, then had to pass the torch on to the next one,” one resident of Xining who watched the parade said.
Meanwhile, an employee at a Xining travel agency said the Olympic flame was originally supposed to pass through Ta’er Temple. “That part was cancelled,” he said.
Back in Kardze, security forces were deployed in Yaten and Buruna nunneries and in other monasteries in the area. Nuns leaving the buildings to visit the toilets were being followed, sources in Kardze said.
The Kardze monk said a disabled Tibetan man was also detained for handing out leaflets in Kardze county town on Monday, and that people were afraid to speak for fear of detention by the authorities.
“It is very dangerous there now,” the monk said. “All the telephone lines are being tapped. Apparently a few people got arrested in Seda county after they transmitted certain information by telephone. Nobody dares to say anything at all now.”
A Kardze man now resident in Chengdu said he had been unable to call his family. “I don’t know if there is a problem on the line, but I haven’t been able to get through to Kardze now for several days,” he said. “I have just tried to call the family, but it’s no use."
On Sunday, four monks from the Khangmar monastery in Kardze protested in the county town. The monks, identified as Tsering Phuntsok, 24, Tashi Sherab, 36, of the Kulu Dapon family, Serga, 37, from the Kulu Wulu family, and Yeshe Dhargyal, 27, shouted slogans calling for Tibetan independence and the return of the Dalai Lama.
They were detained after protesting for only a short time, sources in the town said, adding that, three hours later, 10 or 11 Tibetans from Gyasur village in Kardze county also launched a protest, which armed police used tear gas to disperse. The protesters were later detained.
The Chinese authorities have launched a concerted “patriotic education” campaign among Tibetans, aimed at diminishing support for the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing blames for violence that erupted in Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, on March 14 following several days of peaceful protests.
Beijing says that 22 people were killed in the rioting, which began in Lhasa and spread rapidly to other Tibetan areas of western China. Tibetan sources say scores of people were killed when Chinese paramilitary and police opened fire on crowds of unarmed demonstrators.
Chinese authorities have blamed the Dalai Lama for instigating the protests and fomenting a Tibetan independence movement. The Dalai Lama rejects the accusation, saying he wants only autonomy and human rights for Tibetans.
Original reporting in Cantonese by Hai Nan, in Mandarin by Qiao Long, and in Kham dialect by Tsewang Norbu and Norbu Damdul. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie, Karma Dorjee and Chen Ping. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.