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Suppression in Tibet, Increased Vigil in Sichuan & Xinjiang

Despite measures like incapacitating internet servers, blocking foreign web sites reporting on the situation in Tibet, jamming the broadcasts of Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America and blocking overseas telephone calls, the Chinese have not yet been able to enforce a total isolation of Tibet. It is still possible to make telephone calls between Tibet and the rest of China, including Hong Kong . Pro-democracy elements in Hong Kong have been helping the Tibetans in disseminating abroad their accounts of the situation in Tibet. Information continues to flow out through Hong Kong, but the flow is much reduced as compared to the flow till March 14,2008.

2. Lhasa continues to be a closed city with all shops shut down on the orders of the Chinese troops on March 15 and 16,2008. To meet the resulting shortages of essential supplies for the people such as meat, vegetables, bread etc, Chinese troops have been distributing them at selected points.

3. The Chinese have totally sealed off all the monasteries in Lhasa keeping their monks under virtual house arrest. They are not allowed to go out for seeking alms and are being supplied rations by the Army. All religious and social interactions between the monks and the general population have been cut off. The Chinese troops are emulating the methods followed by the military junta in Myanmar last year to suppress the agitation by the monks. As happened in Myanmar last year, in Lhasa the younger monks were in the forefront of the agitation. The older monks were peaceful and refrained from participating in acts of violence.About 80 monks have so far been rounded up by the Army and are being questioned.

4. The Chinese troops have been going slow on their action against the students and other sections of the Tibetan youth, who allegedly participated in acts of violence, including in targeted attacks on shops and other property owned by Han settlers from outside Tibet. There was large-scale destruction of such property. The Chinese suspect that preparations for the revolt must have been going on for some days, if not weeks. It is alleged that on March 14,2008, when large-scale attacks on Han-owned shops took place, many Tibetan-owned shops exhibited outside scarfs of a particular colour to enable the protesting youth distinguish them and refrain from attacking them.

5. The Chinese have been bringing in reinforcements from other parts of China. Till the reinforcements are in position by March 17,2008, they are withholding their action against the students and other sections of the general population. They have been given an ultimatum till the evening of March 17,2008, to surrender to the police on their own. They have been promised a lenient treatment if they did so, provided they had not indulged in acts of murder. Those failing to surrender have been warned of severe action. While Lhasa has been relatively calm on Saturday and Sunday, it remains to be seen whether it would remain calm on March 17,2008, when some of the shops are expected to be allowed to re-open and the Chinese start house-to-house searches for those who participated in acts of violence.

6. Incidents of protest demonstrations by monks have been reported from the interior parts of Tibet and from Sichuan. There have been no reports of the participation of students and other sections of the youth in the interior areas, where the protests have been confined to the monks. According to the Tibetan refugees abroad, there was a major demonstration by over 1000 monks on March 16,2008, in the Amdo Ngaba Kirti monastery located in the Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the Sichuan Province. They shouted slogans for independence and praised the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama under detention in China.

7. Nervous of similar revolts by the general Tibetan population in the Sichuan province and by the Uighurs in the Xinjiang province, the Chinese army has rushed reinforcements to those provinces too and blocked all internet connections in anticipation of trouble. All travel to and from Pakistan from Xinjiang has been stopped and border posts on the Pakistani border have been reinforced. Official Chinese accounts of the March 14 disturbances alleged that the Tibetan demonstrators attacked a mosque in Lhasa frequented by Uighurs. This has been denied by Tibetan refugees.

8. The Nepalese authorities are reported to have succumbed to pressure from Beijing and agreed to stop all movements to the base camp of mount Everest till the Olympic flame is taken by the Chinese mountaineers on the Chinese side of the Everest to the top of the Everest, brought down and then taken out of Tibet. Similar restrictions have already been enforced on the Chinese side.

9. Even before the trouble broke out in Tibet on March 10,2008, a joint team of Chinese security officials had gone to Pakistan for discussions with their Pakistani counterparts regarding the security arrangements for the Olympic flame, which is expected to transit Islamabad on April 16 on its way to New Delhi. According to Pakistani police sources, not only the Chinese but even Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) apprehend that the Uighurs in the North Waziristan area as well as the students of the madrasas of the Lal Masjid might stage an act of suicide terrorism to express their resentment over the role of China in pressurising President Pervez Musharraf to order commando action in the Masjid in July,2007. This happened after the activities of the mullas and students of the madrasas took an anti-China turn with the kidnapping of some Chinese women working in the beauty parlours of Islamabad, who were accused by the Mullas of being prostitutes.

10. The revolt in Tibet and the incidents in Lhasa underline the total failure of the Chinese intelligence. They not only failed to detect in time the preparations being made for the revolt, but were also totally oblivious of the penetration of the Lhasa police by pro-independence recruits. There have been many desertions of Tibetan policemen from the force. Heads are expected to roll in the Ministries of Public and State Security— not only in their offices in Tibet, but also in their headquarters in Beijing. Well-informed Hong Kong sources say that even the position of Prime Minister Mr.Wen Jiabao may become shaky.

11. The equestrian events of the Olympics are to be held in Hong Kong. The Chinese are now worried that Falun Gong and pro-democracy elements in Hong Kong might create a diversion there. (16-3-08)

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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