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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."

Support plea for repressed kingdom in the clouds

July 17, 2008

By Val Sweeney
Inverness Courier
15 July, 2008

WITH the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games just one month
away, China's human rights record is set to come under intense scrutiny
— particularly in Tibet which lies high in the Himalayan mountains.

Since troops used force in March to suppress anti-China demonstrations
in Tibetan communities — allegedly resulting in the deaths of scores of
protesters — there has been increasing vocal disquiet across the globe.

One Highland councillor, who visited Tibet last year, is now urging
people in the Highlands to light a candle on the eve of the Olympics as
a symbolic gesture in support of this once independent kingdom which is
now a part of the People's Republic of China.

Hamish Wood is a practising Buddish who cycled from Llasa to Katmandu as
part of a holiday.

"I was fortunate in some ways," the 65-year-old said. "We were cycling
along roads where people had tea shops and sometimes we had the
opportunity to speak to people who were not being directed by officials.

"It became obvious they were commenting on Tibet and from the little
information we could manage to get from them, they do feel persecuted.

"It is quite horrendous how many people have been killed by the Chinese
and how the forces mark out the monasteries and make the monks do menial

Mr Wood also feared there was a move to dilute the indigenous population
and culture in Tibet.

"In some villages, they are building tenement buildings and whittling
down the population and transporting people from other parts of China,"
he said.

But he felt much of the world remained unaware of what was happening.
"Because it is a closed country, they are very strict about issuing
visas to get in," he said. "The Tibetans have problems getting their
message into the world about what is happening."

During his trip, he was aware of the presence of Chinese officials and
the possibility of compromising any Tibetan people by speaking to them.
"When they weren't there, the people couldn't have been more welcoming."

When he stopped at a tea shop, a man revealed a picture of the Dalai
Lama — the spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people — who
has lived in exile in Dharamsala, in northern of India, since fleeing
from Tibet in 1959.

"He was completely shaking — if it was known he had a picture of the
Dalai Lama, he would be whisked away," Mr Wood said.

He added the idea of lighting a candle, which has been inspired by an
internet campaign called candle4tibet, represented a gesture of solidarity.

"Where there is light, there is life." he said. "The basis of this
campaign is to take this opportunity after 56 years of Chinese rule and
to say to the Tibetan people, 'you are not forgotten'."

His hope was for Tibet to be given its independence. "It would be such a
good will gesture for China," he maintained. "They would get so much out
of it."

While he would like to see the Dalai Lama allowed back to his homeland,
he felt it would not happen. "I believe while it might not happen with
this Dalai Lama, it might with the next one," he said. "It would take
the next one for China not to lose face. But unless there is constant
pressure on China, it will never happen."

Asked whether China should be allowed to host the Olympic Games, he
replied that it was open to any country to apply. "I see it as an
opportunity to try to get change in some ways," he said. "The focus is
on China."

He disagreed, however, with the protests and disruption caused by
pro-Tibet demonstrators as the Olympic torch travelled around the world
earlier this year. "I am a pacifist," he said.

"I think there are other ways to show your displeasure. I think a candle
is a symbolic way of showing protest.

"It says you are protesting but without throwing yourself down in front
of vehicles. There are pacifist ways of getting your message across
instead of playing up to the media."

He accepted, however, the coverage given to the torch protests had
resulted in highlighting the issues.

"The Dalai Lama is a pacifist. He believes there are other ways of
protesting without it coming to physical violence. He is also concerned
as a world leader what effect it will have on the remaining people in

Mr Wood, a widower, has a son and a daughter. He is a former assistant
principal of Inverness College and has also worked for Victim Support
which offers practical help and information to victims, witnesses and
others affected by crime. The Liberal Democrat was elected to represent
the Aird and Loch Ness ward in May last year.

Although it was his first visit to Tibet, Mr Wood has visited Nepal for
the past six or seven years. It was during those visits he became
interested in Bhuddism although he found it difficult to explain what
first attracted him to the religion.

"It is like if you ask someone why they suddenly become a Christian, it
is often difficult to put into words," he replied. "You just know that
is it. It is like when you look for a house and look at a whole range
and suddenly see one and that is it.

"Like lots of people of my age, I attended a Church of Scotland Sunday
school. It was the traditional thing on a Sunday. But I never carried on
and took the faith. It was just something which was not for me."

But the more he has delved into Bhuddism, the more he has come to
appreciate the way of life it offers. Consequently, he has joined a
group, Rokpa Highlands, a branch of Rokpa Trust, a charity initially
established by Dr Akong Tulku Rinpoche to help the indigenous peoples of

Along with other group members, he takes part in weekly meditation
classes and is also planning to take part in a Bhuddist refuge.

Mr Wood feels Scotland is becoming a more diverse country. "People who
have been in Scotland for many years are now looking at other faiths. I
think we are exposing ourselves to more cultures.

"People also go abroad and because of that they see other things. I
think it is good. People are not just following something because it is
what they are expected to follow."

A yellow wrist band indicates his faith. "I feel comfortable wearing it.
If people query it, I tell them about it — that is what I believe."

A few facts and figures about Tibet

     * Tibet lies at the centre of Asia, with an area of 2.5 million
square kilometres.
     * It borders India, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma and China.
     * It is split into three provinces Amdo, Kham and U-Tsang, which
together with western Kham is referred to by China as the Tibet
Autonomous Region.
     * Around 6 million Tibetans live in the mountain region, the
earth's highest at 13,000 feet above sea level. There are a further
estimated 7.5 million Chinese, living mainly in Kham and Amdo.
     * The main language is Tibetan, although the official language is
     * The staple food is Tsampa (roasted barley flour) while the
national drink is salted butter tea.
     * The economy is dominated by subsistence agriculture, although
tourism has become increasingly important.
     * Its political and religious leader is the 14th Dalai Lama, who is
in exile in Dharamsala, India.
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