April 24, 2011 3:26 pm

China steps up security in Tibetan areas


Exiled Tibetan students in India protest against the Chinese crackdown on the monks at Kirti in Sichuan province

China is stepping up security measures throughout ethnic Tibetan areas following a crackdown on unrest around a monastery in Sichuan province, in a sign of growing tension in the region.

Residents of Gannan Tibetan autonomous prefecture reached by telephone on Sunday reported that armed patrols in the streets had been increased.

One said a truck with “troops” was standing in front of the Labrang monastery in Xiahe, a mainly Tibetan-inhabited town in the area in southern Gansu province.

A resident in another area, the Deqen Tibetan autonomous prefecture in Yunnan province, said local authorities has intensified pressure on Tibetan residents. “Cadres have been making more visits to the villages, and talking about harmony and patriotism,” the person said. Local residents also reported a greater presence of armed police and soldiers in nearby towns.

Beijing drastically increased troop presence in Tibet amid its crackdown on the uprisings in the area in early 2008 as it did following ethnic Uighur riots in Xinjiang the following year, so armed police patrols and deployments at strategic spots are not an unusual sight in these areas. But the residents’ descriptions suggest that those forces are staging a show of strength.

It comes amid a growing country-wide crackdown on dissent which has peaked with the detention of Ai Weiwei, the outspoken artist, as the government frets about a wide array of challenges to its grip on power.

Last week’s oil price protests by striking truck drivers in Shanghai, the world’s busiest port, was a reminder of the potent threat posed by inflation.

But Tibet is seen by the political leadership as fundamental to the country’s stability and national integrity with religious minorities encouraged to stay in line.

The latest security measures come in the wake of unrest at Kirti, a Tibetan monastery in Sichuan province, which could mark the biggest unrest in the region since the uprising and the subsequent crackdown in March 2008. The government says the riots back then left 22 dead but exile groups say several times that number were killed, many by security forces.

According to Tibetan rights groups, a 60-year-old Tibetan man and a 65-year-old woman died at Kirti when they, together with other local residents, tried to prevent security forces from removing hundreds of monks from the monastery last Thursday.

More than 300 monks were taken away on army trucks on Thursday night, and more monks were removed on Friday, said Free Tibet, a US-based group, citing sources in Aba prefecture, where Kirti is located.

“As the monks were being driven away in large trucks, the group of lay people – mainly in their sixties or older – who had been standing vigil at the monastery gate were beaten “mercilessly” by police,” said the International Campaign for Tibet, citing local sources. It quoted an exiled Kirti monk as saying people had their arms and legs broken.

The weekend crackdown marks the latest escalation in local unrest after Phuntsog, a 20-year-old monk from Kirti, set himself on fire on March 16, in what Tibetan activists called an act of commemoration for protests three years ago. It mirrored a similar incident in February 2010 when Tapey, another young monk from the Kirti monastery, also set himself aflame.

Aba and neighbouring Ganzi prefecture, have been closed to foreign tourists. Gannan and Deqen, the two prefectures in Gansu and Yunnan, border the two Tibetan administrative districts in Sichuan to the north and to the south, respectively.

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