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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Escaped Tibetan rioter tells of Chinese repression

May 15, 2008

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
May 14, 2008 12:56]

Kusang Sonam
DHARAMSHALA, India — Before fleeing across a mountainous border,
Kusang Sonam says he hid for 12 days from Chinese forces searching
for Tibetans who rioted against Beijing's rule in the Himalayan region.

"I knew I would be dead if they had caught me," the 38-year-old
clothes trader and father-of-one told AFP in his first media
interview at a refugee centre in India.

Sonam said after four days of protests in Lhasa, knife-wielding
Chinese troops attacked Tibetan demonstrators on March 14, sparking
retaliation and then a massive manhunt for protesters in the capital
of the autonomous region.

"We were protesting to mark the 49th anniversary (of the failed
Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule) when the troops attacked us
with long knives," he said.

"We threw stones and the soldiers retreated and then returned with
guns and soon there was smoke, rattle of gunfire and terrible
shrieks," said Sonam, who is from the restive Dartsedo district in
Karze prefecture.

He said he saw several Tibetans die from gunshot and knife wounds.

"The troops just hurled them like carcasses into police vans and
drove off," said Sonam, who escaped to Nepal on March 26.

Nepal is a major transit point for those fleeing Tibet. Under a
"gentleman's agreement" with the government, a UN-funded reception
centre in Kathmandu issues Tibetan refugees with identity papers, and
sends most of them on to Dharamshala in India, the seat of the
Tibetan government-in-exile.

The exiled government says 203 Tibetans were killed and 1,000 injured
in the Chinese crackdown. Beijing says Tibetan "rioters" and
"insurgents" killed 21 people.

"It was our duty as Tibetans to protest the occupation of our land by
China but they (troops) used excessive force," said Sonam in a rare
first-hand account.

Sonam is one of the few to have recently made it out of Tibet. The
father of a young girl reached Dharamshala from Nepal on April 30 --
only the fourth Tibetan to escape the region since the outbreak of
the violence.

In April, a teenage girl and two younger boys reached Dharamshala.
They have been shifted to a safe house to prevent their identities
becoming public.

Their parents are still listed as missing in Tibet, said refugee
centre director Dorjee, who uses one name.

Sonam already yearns to return to his family -- daughter, wife,
brother and father -- but that is now impossible.

"I cannot go back as I have received a message from my wife, the
police were still out looking for me and have confiscated all my
belongings," said the refugee, clad in borrowed clothes.

The Dalai Lama is pressing world leaders to urge China to ease the
crackdown on Tibet and his envoys held talks with officials in China
this month, but Beijing blames the rioting on the India-based Tibetan
Buddhist spiritual leader.

The refugee centre's Dorjee said stricter border patrols and
draconian measures by the Chinese authorities had made it nigh
impossible for Tibetans to escape today.

"Earlier, we used to receive around 3,000 refugees every year from
Tibet but since March 14 -- see our dormitories are absolutely empty
except for Sonam," he said.

"These Chinese (authorities) have prepared family cards and hold
daily roll-calls and if one member of a family is missing then the
rest has just had it," he said.

Dorjee would reveal nothing further, fearing for the safety of
relatives of the escapees. "Can't tell everything... Can we?" Dorjee said.
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