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Tibet monks 'won't be punished'

April 1, 2008

Al Jazeera
MONDAY, MARCH 31, 2008

China has told foreign diplomats that monks who took part in a protest
last week during a government-run media visit to Tibet will not be
punished, Australia's foreign minister has said.

The group of monks interrupted a delegation of visiting foreign
reporters outside the Jokhang temple in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, on
Thursday shouting for freedom for Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama.

Stephen Smith, the Australian foreign minister, said Chinese officials
told an Australian diplomat who visited Lhasa after the incident that
the monks would not face reprisals.

"The delegation received an assurance that monks who protested
effectively in the presence of international journalists a few days
prior to the diplomats' arrival would not be punished," Smith said.

The monks' outburst offered a rare insight into continuing Tibetan
dissatisfaction with China's rule since security forces clamped down on
the Himalayan region following a protests in Lhasa.

The Australian diplomat was part of a group of 17 foreign officials from
15 countries who visited Lhasa at the weekend after Beijing bowed to
international calls to allow diplomats into the Himalayan region.

Smith said China had taken a step in the right direction by allowing
diplomats to visit Tibet following weeks of protests against Beijing's
rule there, but said it was disappointing that they had been constantly

"At all times, the delegation was in the presence of Chinese officials,"
he told reporters in Perth.

"The best way forward, in the Australian government's view in this
matter, is for China to be open and transparent about Tibet, to open
itself up to scrutiny, whether by international media or by diplomats."

Meanwhile, China's state-run media has reported that authorities have
detained what they say are the chief suspects in four arson and murder
cases stemming from the recent anti-government protests in Lhasa.

The suspects have been linked to fires in fires in three clothing shops
where five young women were burned to death, the Tibet Daily newspaper
reported on Monday.

The report quoted officials in Tibet as saying a total of 414 suspects
have been arrested in connection with the anti-government riots, while
another 298 people had turned themselves in.

Human rights groups have urged Chinese officials to release the names of
everyone detained and allow international monitors access to assess
their welfare.

China's Premier Wen Jiabao said during a visit to Laos on Sunday that
Lhasa was "basically stable" and "social order has returned to normal."

The protests in Tibet erupted on March 10 as demonstrators marked the
anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule.

The demonstrations escalated into widespread rioting in the city, which
then spread to neighbouring Chinese provinces populated by Tibetans.

Beijing says rioters killed 18 civilians and two police officers, but
exiled Tibetan leaders have put the death toll from the Chinese
crackdown at 135-140 Tibetans, with another 1,000 injured and many detained.
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