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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Restive, remote Tibetan region under military lockdown

August 29, 2008

August 25, 2008

GARZE PREFECTURE, China (AFP) -- Armed soldiers line the roads
throughout these remote foothills of the Himalayas, travellers'
identifications are checked, and Tibetan monks talk warily of their
communist Chinese rulers.

Garze prefecture, a rugged area that has historically been one of
China's most volatile Tibetan regions, hit the headlines again last
week after the Dalai Lama accused soldiers of firing on a crowd there
during the Olympics.

Swathes of the region in southwest China's Sichuan province are under
strict military lockdown, although locals say this has been the norm
since unrest erupted in Tibetan-populated regions of the country in March.

"We are living under Chinese socialism," one Buddhist monk at a
temple in Kangding, the capital of Garze prefecture, told AFP when
asked about government claims that "stability and harmony" had
returned to the area.

"If the authorities say 'stability and harmony' have returned, then
it has returned, because whatever they say goes."

His sarcastic remark followed allegations from the Dalai Lama,
Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, that soldiers opened fire on a crowd
in Garze town, which is in a remote pocket of the prefecture of the
same name, on August 18.

The Dalai Lama said there were casualties but it was impossible to
get any more information from the town due to the military lockdown.

The spiritual leader also accused China of expanding its crackdown
across the Tibetan plateau, which takes in Tibet as well as
Tibetan-populated areas of western Chinese provinces such as Garze.

Tibetan monks were heavily involved in the protests that began to
mark the anniversary of a 1959 uprising against Chinese rule, and
China's forces have focused special attention on monasteries in their
bid to crush any opposition.

More than 400 Tibetans have died in the crackdown in Lhasa alone,
according to the Dalai Lama. However Chinese authorities have
reported killing just one "insurgent" and blamed Tibetan "rioters"
for the deaths of 21 people.

The 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner said it looked as though Chinese
security forces were planning to maintain their heavy presence for
many years, as there had been a "frenzy" of building new military
camps in Tibetan populated areas.

"A project of long-term brutal repression is under way," he said.

In and around Kangding, an AFP reporter saw armed soldiers and police
officers guarding roads, and military trucks rumbling along mountainous roads.

In the Anjue Temple in Kangding, which belongs to the Dalai Lama's
Gelugpa sect, the premises were largely quiet as plainclothes police
kept watch and dozens of police cars sat in the parking lot of two
nearby hotels.

AFP journalists could not get much closer to Garze town from
Kangding, about 300 kilometres (180 miles) away, due to the poor
conditions of roads and drivers refusing to take foreigners there.

Garze prefecture is a mountainous area covering 150,000 square
kilometres (60,000 square miles), nearly four time the size of the Netherlands.

One Han Chinese traveller who was in Garze town a week ago told AFP
the situation there was very tense.

"It looks like the military is preparing to stay in the area for a
long time," he said, as he recalled one encounter with security
forces at a temple.

"We were forced off the bus at gunpoint and had to register before we
were put back on the bus and sent away," he said, asking not to be named.

The military and police were checking identification papers of all
travellers on roads leading to the temples, according to the man.

Garze is part of the Kham region of what Tibetans consider their
homeland, which also covers some of neighbouring Yunnan and Qinghai
provinces, as well as the eastern part of Tibet.

Gabriel Lafitte, an Australian who advises the Tibetan
government-in-exile, said Kham had a strong reputation of
independence from any regime, be it Beijing or Lhasa before that.

During the Qing dynasty, in the 18th century, he said, the Kham
Tibetans fought viciously against the emperor's armies, and it took
them 50 years to subdue the Khampas, as they are known.

"While they have a strong reputation as warriors, they have an equal
reputation for being the most devout, which has earned them trouble
with Chinese authorities," Lafitte said.

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