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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?"

Olympics bring no joy for Tibetan monks

August 17, 2008

Kumbun Monastery, China
The Age/AFP
August 15, 2008

As monks in red and orange robes stroll past tourists snapping photos
of the temples, the quiet of the Kumbum Monastery seems a world away
from the Olympics in far-off Beijing.

But for many of the monks in this monastery on the edge of the
Tibetan plateau in the Chinese province of Qinghai the Games have had
a very real impact on their daily lives.

Most monks were unwilling to talk to foreigners or shied away from
sensitive subjects when broached.

But several who did speak out, anonymously and with great caution,
described restrictions and security measures aimed at limiting their
movements and communication around the Olympic Games period.

They said the authorities feared a repeat of the violence and
anti-Chinese protests that gripped the Tibetan Autonomous Region as
well as Tibetan areas in the provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu
five months ago.

"We can't get email until October after the Olympics," said one monk
out of earshot of the mainly Han Chinese tour groups.

"The Olympics?" said another monk.

"We wouldn't be able to go and watch them as the train station will
not sell us any train tickets, so I don't really care."

The Kumbum Monastery, nestled on a hillside near the Qinghai capital
Xining, is a popular tourist site and an important repository for
Tibetan art and culture.

It is one of the most important monasteries of Tibet's predominant
Yellow Hat school of Buddhism, but since the communists came to power
in China in 1949, the number of monks at Kumbum has fallen from 3,600
to about 800.

For many Tibetans living in Qinghai and around the monastery, which
lies around 1,400 kilometres west of Beijing, there is no border with
the Tibet Autonomous Region and they still consider their region part of Tibet.

The Tibet Autonomous Region is what most foreigners know as Tibet,
but the other areas in the Chinese provinces are also regarded by
Tibetans as part of their ancient homeland.

Unrest erupted in the Tibetan capital Lhasa on March 14 after four
days of peaceful protests, turning into a day of violent anti-Chinese
riots targeting ethnic Han Chinese businesses and residents.

China reacted by sending in a massive military presence to quell the
unrest as it spread, and sealed the regions off from foreign
reporters and tourists - actions that drew condemnation from world
leaders and human rights groups.

Exiled Tibetan leaders say 203 people died in the clampdown, although
China has reported killing just one Tibetan "insurgent" and accused
"rioters" of being responsible for 21 deaths.

The unrest put the issue of China's 57-year rule of Tibet firmly in
the spotlight in the run-up to the Games and triggered largescale
protests around the world.

Pro-Tibet activists have also carried off a series of small but
eye-catching protest actions around the Olympic venues in Beijing in
recent days, while security remains tight back on the Tibetan plateau.

"The slogan is now about a safe Olympics, and of course in the
Chinese way of doing things, they impose more restrictions," said
Chan Kin-man, director of the Centre for Civil Society Studies at the
Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"And even if they are just Buddhist monks, religious forces are
always regarded by the Chinese government as one of the political
threats to the regime."

In Kumbum, one monk said they were being watched constantly by the
authorities and were pressured not to talk to foreigners.

"They always come to ask us 'where have you been', and 'who have you
talked to"', he said.

The monk confided that five of his fellow monks had been detained
during the period of unrest, although he said they had since come
back to the monastery.

"People say things will get better after the Olympics, but I'm not so
sure," he said. "I think things might get worse."
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