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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?"

Fear lingers in Tibet two years after riots

July 6, 2010

By Ben Blanchard
July 2, 2010

LHASA, China, July 2 - (Reuters) -- Outward
normality has returned to the thin air of Tibet's
capital Lhasa. But, more than two years after
ethnic violence erupted there, residents still talk of fear and suspicion.

Tourists, foreign and Chinese, mingle with
Tibetans, browsing for ethnic jewelry and
intricate Buddhist paintings. Child beggars hold
up grubby hands asking for a few yuan. Old women
prostrate themselves in front of Buddhist temples.

Armed soldiers and police patrol the streets,
especially in Lhasa's old Tibetan quarter, in a
reminder of Beijing's tight grip on the restive region.

"The fear is all around," said one nervous young
businessman, his features weathered by the harsh climate and high altitude.

Though the military presence has been pulled back
slightly since the months after the rioting, he
said the city remained oppressive.

Military bases still ring Lhasa and long lines of
army trucks rumble along narrow highways into the
city of 600,000, predominantly Tibetan, though
with a growing number of Han Chinese migrants.

"There are spies everywhere. Who knows who is
listening to us," the businessman added. Like
others, he asked for anonymity, fearing
retribution for talking to a foreign reporter without permission.

Tibetans spoke of constant dread and suspicion,
in whispered comments to Reuters during a rare
government-organized visit to the region.

Tibet, often a friction point in relations with
the West, has been largely closed to foreign
media since the March 2008 violence, and access has never been easy.

The 2008 unrest in Lhasa, which then sparked
waves of protests across Tibetan areas, came a
few months before Beijing hosted the Olympic Games.

Peaceful protests led by monks gave way to the
worst violence the region had seen in almost two
decades, with rioters torching shops and turning
on Han Chinese and Hui Muslims.

Han residents seemed largely to brush off the
security. For some it has been a boon, with
unexpected business ventures bought about by the
flight of many Han after the riots.

A taxi driver from inland China said he came
after the unrest as friends told him he could
pick up a nearly new car for a song.

"I heard you could get a car for 3,000 yuan," he
said. "I saw an opportunity and grabbed it."


Overseas groups critical of Chinese policies in
Tibet say more than 200 people were killed in a
crackdown following the riots of 2008. The official death toll is 19.

"I'm terrified to speak of these things," said a
second Tibetan resident when asked about the rioting and its aftermath.

"If someone finds out I've talked about March 14
my whole family will suffer, and they're just
innocents," he said, cautiously eyeing a passing policeman.

"Nobody believes the official death toll. There
was too much violence. The things I saw, the
burned out shops, cars and buses. Many more
people must have died," he added, his face wincing.

Beijing says it used minimal force and blames
exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama
for instigating the violence, a charge he rejects.

Tibet's Buddhist clergy, revered by lay Tibetans,
have been under pressure since the unrest, rights groups say.

Some were arrested. Others have been the target
of "patriotic re-education" campaigns to try to
change their perception of China.

One graduate of the program, a young monk called
Norgye, was presented to journalists for a brief interview this week.

A few weeks after the riots, Norgye, who like
many Tibetans uses one name, was part of a small
group of monks from Lhasa's Jokhang temple who
interrupted another government-arranged trip for
foreign reporters, shouting that they had no freedom.

Looking worried and keeping his eyes on the
floor, he said he had not been mistreated after
the outburst, but that he had undergone "education about the law."

"Through education, I realized that what I did
was wrong and lawless," he said in his native
Tibetan, translated by an official interpreter.
"There is freedom of religion in Tibet."


Tibet's Communist-Party dominated administration
says its polices are popular and bring
development to a poor region, though it admits
that a heavy security presence is still needed to ensure stability post-2008.

"All the people of Tibet, especially the
Tibetans, can see that social stability is the
best thing," Tibet's deputy Communist Party boss
Hao Peng told reporters. "Only with stability can there be development."

In Lhasa's heavily Tibetan old quarter, one of
the nexus points for the 2008 unrest, not everyone agrees.

"We are a people with no rights and no freedoms,"
said one monk, clad in his vermillion robes and
out of earshot of the armed paramilitary forces who patrol the area.

"The Tibetans who work for the government here
are bad people. They are working with the Han to
suppress our culture and religion," he added in
broken Mandarin, before slipping away to join a
mass of Tibetan pilgrims circling the Jokhang temple.
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