Police encircled a Buddhist monastery in a Tibetan area of southwest China when tensions sparked by the self-immolation of a monk last month escalated into clashes, exiled Tibetans and activists said yesterday, citing sources in the area.
The standoff prompted the leader of the Tibet’s government-in-exile in northern India to say monks at the Kirti monastery, the focus of the conflict, could be in danger.
Hundreds of ethnic Tibetan people in Aba county, Sichuan province, gathered at the Kirti monastery Tuesday trying to stop authorities moving out monks for government-mandated ‘re-education’, the International Campaign for Tibet said in an emailed statement.
That prompted armed police to lockdown the monastery with as many as 2,500 monks inside, the organisation said.
A 21-year-old Tibetan monk burnt himself to death on March 16 in Aba, an overwhelmingly ethnic Tibetan part of Sichuan province that erupted in defiance against Chinese Communist Party control three years ago.
His act echoed protests that gripped Tibetan areas of China in March 2008, when Buddhist monks and other Tibetan people loyal to the exiled Dalai Lama, their traditional religious leader, confronted police and troops across the region.
The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said police began to force their way through the crowds Tuesday, beating some protesters and using police dogs on the crowd.
Armed police were patrolling around the monastery, which has been partly ringed by cement walls, creating fears of food shortages, a coalition of Tibetan advocacy organizations said in a separate statement.
Tibetan leaders in exile Thursday called on other governments to denounce the crackdown and for civilians to adhere to non-violent protest.
“We are afraid there may be mass brutal treatment towards the monks and they may be killed or tortured,” Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister of the exiled Tibetan government in Dharamsala, India said in a statement.
“We are very concerned and can only pray and appeal to the international community to appeal to PRC (China) to refrain from this genocide. We feel very helpless,” he said.
China says the Tibetan government-in-exile has no legitimacy.
Many monks, or lamas, from the Kirti monastery fled to northern India in past decades, and Kirti Rinpoche, a senior lama of the Kirti monastery in exile, said economic growth and propaganda alone could not defuse tensions in his homeland.
“The senior (Chinese) leadership must find the courage to accept that constant repression born of suspicion and the attempt to enforce ‘Harmony’ with the power of the gun cannot address the real situation,” he said.
China has ruled Tibet since Communist troops marched in in 1950. The traditional Buddhist leader of the region, the Dalai Lama, fled to exile in northern India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Party rule.
Many Tibetans revere the Dalai Lama, but the Chinese government accuses him of fomenting violence to seek Tibet’s independence. He has said he wants Tibetan autonomy under Chinese sovereignty, and rejects violence.
Aba County, or Ngaba as it is called by Tibetans, is in western Sichuan province, an area next to the Tibetan Autonomous Region that is also home to many Tibetans. Many advocates of self-determination say that these traditionally Tibetan areas are part of one, wider Tibet that should win self-determination.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman did not answer questions about the incident during a regular news briefing on Thursday, but said conditions in Tibetan regions of China had improved enormously thanks to Beijing’s policies.
“Tibet has undergone 30 years of development that has matched the rest of the country and made important economic and social developments which have improved the lives of local people,” spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.
“Local religion has been appropriately protected, and the central government’s policy towards Tibet has received the consistent support of the local people,” Hong said.