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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Mongolians are China's forgotten minority--dissident

October 22, 2008

By Emma Graham-Harrison
Guardian (UK)
October 21 2008

HOHHOT, China, Oct 21 (Reuters) - China's ethnic Mongolians have been
forgotten by the world, their fight for cultural survival
overshadowed by unrest in Tibet, the wife of the region's best-known
prisoner of conscience told Reuters.

Xinna, who like most Chinese Mongolians uses only by one name, said
she was worried about her jailed husband's health after he reported
leg problems, but prison officials told her the results of a medical
checkup were "top secret".

"I was very excited about the Olympics, it was a special opportunity.
Now it's passed, I'm even more without hope," she told Reuters over a
meal of cheese, mutton and milk tea in Hohhot, regional capital of
China's Inner Mongolia.

She wrote to the country's top leaders ahead of the August Games
asking for a pardon for her husband Hada, founding chairman of the
Southern Mongolian Democracy Alliance, who was jailed for 15 years in
1995 after organising peaceful demonstrations and strikes.

Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience and has
voiced concern for his well-being.

But instead of releasing him the government launched a pre-Games
crackdown on Mongolians, Xinna said. A senior official from the
regional government, propaganda chief Wu Lan, told Reuters Hada would
serve out his sentence "like every prisoner".

Xinna, who grew up in a city speaking little Mongolian and was once a
teacher of Marxism and political theory, is carrying on her husband's
work protecting their language and culture.

She worries that economic pressure to assimilate is crushing their
traditions and slowly wiping out their language.

"In cities many kids can't speak Mongolian... some parents who grew
up studying the language faced unfair treatment. So they don't want
their children to learn Mongolian. The pressure of a market economy
forced them to learn Mandarin," she said.

On paper Inner Mongolia enjoys a high degree of autonomy but, like
Tibet and Xinjiang in the far west, Beijing keeps a tight rein on the
region, fearing ethnic unrest in those strategic border areas.


Mongolians are too few to attract attention, outnumbered four-to-one
even in their own "autonomous region" and overshadowed by the
neighbouring independent nation of Mongolia, Xinna said.

"We don't get enough attention from the world," she said.

There has been massive international attention for other minorities
battling for greater autonomy from Beijing, particularly Tibetans,
who have been championed by their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

But many other ethnic groups in China are also unhappy about the
cultural and economic dominance of the Han Chinese.

Hada's confinement has marginally improved since foreign media and
human rights groups reported on his plight.

"They used to let the criminals beat him, it has got a bit better
with international pressure," said Xinna.

But her worries for her husband, whom she normally sees just twice a
year and then only for an hour, because he is held in another city
almost 24 hours' journey away, have not abated.

She says he won't "admit his guilt" so is held in harsh conditions,
with no phone calls allowed and newspapers she has subscribed to not
reaching him.

"These are the best years of his life as an intellectual, how can
they do this? He looks so different from when he was young," Xinna
added sadly. (Editing by Ben Blanchard and Roger Crabb)
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