Chinese authorities in the southwestern Tibetan region of Lithang are removing ethnic Tibetan officials and replacing them with Chinese officials, in a crackdown on suspected separatism after a protest calling for the return of the exiled Dalai Lama.
Local sources also told RFA's Tibetan service that thousands of armed police have been shifted into the area. The official Ganzi Daily News has meanwhile reported that authorities in Lithang are launching a range of new measures to address instability, including more aggressive gathering of intelligence, preemptive resolution of disputes, and stepped-up criticism of the Dalai Lama as part of a "high tide of anti-splittist struggle."
"At the same time, a series of flexible measures will be taken to ensure the religious freedom of the local nomadic people...so that the campaign to criticize the Dalai Lama will truly be effective," the newspaper said.
"The head of the Lithang county government and the head of the county police were both Tibetans," a source in Lithang said. "During the last few days, the complete Tibetan leadership of Lithang county was replaced by Chinese officials."
The former Tibetan officials had been sent elsewhere, but whether they had been moved laterally or demoted was unclear, the source added.
There are a lot of tensions and restrictions in the Lithang area.
Residents said thousands of People's Armed Police troops were now stationed in the area, leading to a squeeze on accommodation. Many security forces were now encamped in a large grain store emptied to make room for them, sources said.
"Initially they sent 2,000 armed police to Lithang, and they were later reinforced...We also know from others that reinforcements have arrived at the rate of 50 to 300 on a daily basis," the source said.
"There are a lot of tensions and restrictions in the Lithang area," the source added.
An official at the Lithang Office of Public Security confirmed that the police chief had been replaced but declined to give details. Phone calls to the Lithang county government office were automatically redirected to a recorded message promoting tourism in the area.
A source in the area said the leader of the county government, a Tibetan man whose Chinese name is Luo Yong Hong, had been relieved of his position and replaced by an ethnic Chinese man. The Lithang county Party secretary, also a Tibetan man known by the Chinese name Liu Xiao Kang, was also said to have been relieved of his position and replaced by an ethnic Chinese man named Cai De Gui.
None of these men could be reached to comment.
Authorities have also forbidden any discussion of Ronggyal Adrak, a source said. "If anyone does talk or initiates actions in support of him, they could face jail terms of between three and 10 years, depending on the extent of their involvement," the source said.
Tibetan nomads protesting outside government offices in the Sichuan town of Lithang withdrew in mid-August after local Tibetan leaders begged them to leave or face a crackdown by thousands of armed police stationed in the area.
The protesters were demanding the release of one of their number who called publicly for the return of the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama.
Protesters had issued three specific demands of authorities in China's southwestern Sichuan Province, including: the release of detained nomad Ronggyal Adrak; religious freedom, including the right to hear teachings by the Dalai Lama; and the release of revered Tibetan monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, among other prisoners.
They withdrew only after Tibetan leaders begged them to do so, their hands folded in supplication, sources reported at the time, on condition that those leaders would press to meet their demands. They vowed to restart their protests if the demands weren't met.
The standoff began during a festival ceremony Aug. 1 after police detained Yonru nomad Ronggyal Adrak for whipping up the crowd to shout in support of the Dalai Lama.
Ronggyal Adrak remains in detention, along with three others identified as Lotop, Lupoe, and Kunchen, sources said.
Kunchen, a schoolteacher from Shagu township, was detained Aug. 22 after police searched his house.
No information has been given to relatives about the reasons for his detention, but they are thought to be connected to his possession of a video camera at the time of the protests.
Representatives of the Tibetan nomads had met with top provincial officials, as well as leaders from Karze prefecture and Lithang county.
During that meeting, they were told that the "crimes" committed by Ronggyal Adrak were "extremely severe," citing in particular his call of "Long live the Dalai Lama!" before a crowd of several thousand.
He made his protest at a traditional picnic on the same day that China annually marks the founding of its People's Liberation Army (PLA).
Aug. 1-15 also marks a fortnight of horse-racing and other celebrations among Tibetans, when the local weather is favorable.
Local Chinese security officials have confirmed the incident took place, saying the situation was under control, but they have declined to give further details.
According to the Ganzi Daily News ,"measures to preserve stability must be strongly stepped up, including around every kind of conflict or dispute. We must continue our investigative work into conflicts and disputes, as well as acting sooner to prevent likely areas of conflict or dispute from arising, and nipping emerging problems in the bud by dissolving them at a grassroots level."
"We must perfect our reporting and intelligence gathering systems, taking the initiative in maintaining security, paying particular attention to potential disputes arising over the use of resources such as water, power, mining products, tourism and land. All effective measures are to be used to protect the interests of the broad masses," it said.
"We must strengthen our ideological and organizational work at the grass roots, and place a strong emphasis on the quality of our ideological and political education. We must also set in motion consultation at these levels of Party organization, which will help to dissolve contradictions. Only personnel who have no ideological problems relating to the Dalai Lama and his separatist faction should be chosen for this work, who can hold to the Party line without faltering."
"We must step up our ideological education on the rule of law among the nomads and farmers, and promote the rule of law in the county. The county Party committee and government have set up 24 working groups from among the officials in the county to send into the remote regions and villages, going from household to household, carrying out propaganda and education work to promote the rule of law. Officials [at every level] must be involved in this work...The public security authorities must at the same time crack down relentlessly on anyone in possession of explosives, guns, or poisons."
"The official complaints and petitions system must be improved and any problems reported by members of the public must be dealt with according to law.The security response system should be perfected among county leaders, so that a county-grade leader is responsible whenever a dispute arises. They will be held materially accountable for any problems," the article read.
China regularly sentences Tibetans to jail terms for "splitting the motherland" for possessing portraits, writings, or recordings of the Dalai Lama, who fled the region after a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. China has said he will play no role in Tibet's future.
A year ago, Tibetan nomads ransacked a local police station in Lithang after a dispute over the results in a major annual horse race.
The Lithang Horse Race Festival is a major event in the region, which has drawn up to 50,000 participants and spectators from all over China in previous years.
China's PLA troops marched into Tibet in 1951. The Dalai Lama has accused Beijing of implementing policies of "cultural genocide" against the region and its Buddhist heritage.
Original reporting in Kham by Lobsang Choepel, Dawa Dolma, Chakmo Tso, and Dorjee Damdul for RFA's Tibetan service. Translated from the Tibetan by Benpa Topgyal. Translated from the Mandarin by Joe Zhou. Service director: Jigme Ngapo. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Karma Dorjee and Sarah Jackson-Han.