***NOTE: The World Bank has postponed the vote until Thursday, June 24, 1999***
Montreal, June 21, 1999: Canadian officials have not made public their position on a controversial World Bank project which would see the resettlement of thousands of non-Tibetans into historically Tibetan areas. The final decision on the project will go the World Bank board on Tuesday, June 22, 1999.
"The systematic increase of non-Tibetan population in Tibetan areas has been going on since China invaded Tibet in 1950", said Thubten Samdup, President of the Canada Tibet Committee. "But this is the first time that policy is being endorsed and promoted by an international organisation. For we Tibetans, it is not development, it is cultural genocide."
An international letter-writing campaign directed at World Bank President James Wolfensohn has resulted in a re-evaluation of the project by several countries. Canadians have asked Finance Minister Paul Martin to withhold Canadian support for the project. Last week Canadian NGOs and academics met with representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Canadian International Development Agency and the Department of Finance. The NGOs requested that Canada raise the issue at the G-7 meeting in Cologne.
Tibetans object to the Western China Poverty Reduction Project (WPRP) for five reasons: first, the project facilitates China's population transfer policy which has already made Tibetans a minority in their own country; second, there are serious environmental implications that have not been adequately addressed by the environmental impact assessment; third, forced labour may be used as the project area has been part of China's vast laogai (prison labour) network since the 1950's, and forced labour has been used in other land reclamation projects; fourth, the project is being rushed for approval without complying with the World Bank's own policies concerning Environmental Assessment and Resettlement; fifth, there has not been adequate consultation with the affected peoples particularly in the move-in area.
"This project violates the World Bank's own policies", said Pam Foster, Coordinator of the Halifax Initiative, a Canadian coalition working to reform the international financial institutions. "It violates their environmental, disclosure and resettlement policies. Is the Bank trying to push projects through to a powerful borrower? It is doubtful that the project can even achieve its primary goal poverty reduction".
Chinese officials have responded to the international campaign to stop the WPRP in a statement released June 17, 1999 by Xinhua News Agency. The official Chinese news service quotes officials saying that the controversy has been promoted by "splittist" organisations and is part of an "anti-China" plot led by western nations.
But Tibetans maintain that if they cannot even express dissent without being labeled splittist and anti-China, crimes which carry heavy prison sentences in today's China, then this project may well violate their most fundamental human rights far beyond the parameters of the project itself.
For more information, contact:
Pam Foster, Halifax Initiative 613-789-4447
Thubten Samdup, Canada Tibet Committee 514-867-6770