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54th Commemoration of Tibetan National Uprising: "We will negotiate anywhere, any time" says Tibetan leader

March 09, 2013

54TH COMMEMORATION OF TIBETAN NATIONAL UPRISING

We will negotiate “anywhere, at any time”, says Tibetan leader

 Ottawa, March 10, 2013 - As Tibetans and their supporters around the world take to the streets in commemoration of the 1959 uprising against Chinese armed forces, Tibet’s political leader announced today that his administration stands ready to negotiate with China to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict “anywhere, at any time”.

In a public statement issued today (www.tibet.net ), Tibet’s political leader Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay said, “The only way to end this brutal and grave situation is for China to change its current hard line Tibet policy by respecting the aspirations of the Tibetan people.”  

“The struggle for human rights and democratic freedoms is important to Canadians” said Carole Samdup, Executive Director of the Canada Tibet Committee.  “Today, Canadians across this country will stand in solidarity with the Tibetan people.”

 

BACKGROUND

On March 1, 1959, two Chinese officers visited the young Dalai Lama at the Jokhang Cathedral in Lhasa and insisted that he attend a theatrical performance and tea at the Chinese Army Headquarters in Lhasa.  A date of March 10 was agreed upon.

 Northern India correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, George Patterson, wrote, “This was an extraordinary occurrence for two reasons:  one, the invitation was not conveyed through the Kashag (the Cabinet) as it should have been; and two, the party was not at the palace where such functions would normally have been held, but at the military headquarters – and the Dalai Lama had been asked to attend alone” (Tibet in Revolt, 1959).

On March 9, 1959, the head of the Chinese military detachment in Lhasa summoned the Commander of the Dalai Lama’s bodyguard and cancelled the customary procedures that would normally be associated with the Dalai Lama’s travel from the Norbulinka summer residence to the army headquarters, two miles beyond.  No armed bodyguard was to escort him and no Tibetan soldiers would be allowed beyond the Stone Bridge – a landmark on the perimeter of the sprawling army camp.  Moreover, the event was to be kept secret. 

Word quickly spread through Lhasa.  By March 10, 1959, more than 100,000 Tibetans had surrounded the Norbulinka, forming a human sea of protection for the Dalai Lama. Tibetans feared that the Dalai Lama would be abducted to Beijing and never again permitted to return to Tibet.  Their mobilization prevented the Dalai Lama from attending the theatrical event at Chinese army headquarters and a stalemate prevailed.

 The Escape of the Dalai Lama

 On March 15, 1959, Chinese heavy artillery was seen being moved to sites within range of Lhasa and particularly the Norbulinka.  Rumours were rife of more troops being flown in from China.  By nightfall Lhasa residents were certain that the Dalai Lama’s palace was about to be shelled.

 At approximately 4:00pm on March 17, two mortar shells were fired at the Norbulinka.  They landed in a marsh just short of the palace walls.  The Dalai Lama made the difficult decision to leave Lhasa.  In his autobiography he writes, “There was no certainty that escape was physically possible at all – Ngabo had assured us it was not.  If I did escape from Lhasa, where was I to go, and how could I reach asylum?” (My Land and My People, The Dalai Lama, 1962)

 At 10:00 on the night of March 17, disguised as a soldier, the Dalai Lama marched out of the Norbulinka and onto the danger-filled road to India and freedom.  His mother and elder sister had preceded him, dressed as Khampa men, his youngest brother also disguised as a soldier.

Late on the night of March 19, 1959 fighting broke out in Lhasa.  Hand-to-hand combat raged for two days with the odds stacked hopelessly against the poorly equipped and inexperienced Tibetan resistance.  Veteran Daily Mail war correspondent, Noel Barber, dubbed Lhasa’s March 20, 1959 “bloody Friday”.

 The Norbulinka was bombarded by 800 shells on March 21.  Thousands of men, women and children camped around the palace wall were slaughtered and the homes of about 300 government officials within the walls were destroyed.  In the aftermath, 200 members of the Dalai Lama’s bodyguard were disarmed and publicly executed by machine-gun.  Lhasa’s major monasteries, Ganden, Sera and Drepung were shelled – the latter destroyed.  Monastic treasures and precious scriptures were destroyed or stolen.  Thousands of monks were killed on the spot, transported to the city to work as slave labour, or deported.  In house-to-house searches the residents of homes in which weapons were found, were dragged out and shot on the spot.

 The number of dead from the 1959 uprising in Lhasa and the city’s subsequent fall has never been substantiated.  “No figures are available”, writes George Patterson, “but more than 10,000 Lhasa Tibetans are known to have disappeared; either killed or sent into forced labour in other parts.” (Tibet in Revolt, George Patterson, 1959)

 On April 18, 1959, the Dalai Lama, his mother, sister, brother, three cabinet ministers and approximately 80 other Tibetans crossed safely into India at Tezpur, Assam.  There they were greeted by Indian officials and a press corps or nearly 200 correspondents, all eager for what they later called “the story of the century”.

 Government of Canada officials in Delhi and Peking monitored events in Lhasa as the uprising unfolded.   See their correspondence at http://www.tibet.ca/_media/PDF/secret_canada_tibet_file.pdf

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