Tuesday, April 26, 2011

China's Tibetan problem - More turbulent monks

THE open wound that is Tibetan resentment of Chinese rule refuses to heal. According to accounts seeping out of China, it has been bleeding profusely for some six weeks now at Kirti, a Tibetan monastery in Sichuan province. Kirti is in Aba prefecture, which Tibetans regard as Amdo, a part of historic Tibet.

Two Tibetans in their sixties are reported to have died after being beaten by security forces on April 21st. Their deaths came as the monastery was raided and more than 300 of its nearly 2,500 monks were detained for purposes of “legal education”.

The confrontation started with the death of a young monk, Rigzin Phuntsog, variously described as 16 and 20 years old, who set himself on fire on March 16th. His self-immolation was to mark the third anniversary of bloody anti-Chinese riots in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. The 2008 riots were followed by a harsh crackdown on dissent across what China calls its “Tibet Autonomous Region” as well as in ethnic-Tibetan areas of adjoining provinces, including Sichuan and Qinghai.

Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has accused the police of not even trying to put out the flames that engulfed the young monk. He says they beat Phuntsog instead, hastening his death. A county-government spokesman however said the police doused the flames and blamed the young man's death on “treatment delays”. The government has since called his suicide a “carefully planned and implemented criminal case, which was aimed at triggering disturbances”.

The Dalai Lama said the monastery has been surrounded by Chinese troops, who at one point prevented food and basic supplies from entering. Clandestine video has captured the huge funeral held for the dead monk. Local Tibetans, many of them elderly—like the two who were killed—staged a vigil outside the monastery to protect the monks from reprisals for their protests.

The Chinese government has responded to the tension by closing the area to foreigners, never mind that on April 19th they declared that the situation there was “normal”. Since then, the official Chinese press has alleged immorality among the monks at Kirti—which it portrays as a hotbed of gambling, pornography and other misconduct.

What exactly is going on at the monastery remains subject to conflicting claims. That many Tibetans remain deeply unhappy at living under Chinese rule seems hard to deny. By Banyan, The Economist

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