The Latest on Ngaba

There’s a lot of news out today about Ngaba, where protests by Tibetans against Chinese rule have become an almost-daily event. The latest string began in March and seems to be accelerating now, after a period of relative calm in late summer. First, news that there’s been another self-immolation- NYT reports that a nun burned herself to death yesterday:

The nun, Tenzin Wangmo, 20, was the ninth Tibetan to commit self-immolation since March, the fifth of those to die, and the first Tibetan woman to kill herself in this way, said the group, Free Tibet. The self-immolations have all taken place in restive Tibetan areas of Sichuan Province.

Tenzin’s nunnery, called Dechen Chokorling, was just three kilometers outside Aba and near Kirti. Tenzin set herself on fire outside the nunnery around 1 p.m. on Monday, said the report by Free Tibet, which advocates for Tibetan independence and has functioned as an outlet for people inside the Tibetan areas to report news.

Also, reports that two protesting Tibetans were shot by Chinese police, via Reuters:

The condition and whereabouts of the two casualties, Dawa and Druklo, are unknown, the London-based Free Tibet group said.

Free Tibet said that it was not known why security personnel opened fire on Dawa and Druklo, adding that one was shot in the leg and the other, in the torso. It did not specify who suffered what injury.

The Tibet Express confirms, adding that the protest took place in Serthar:

Chinese police in Serthar County in today’s Sichuan Province on Sunday arrested seven Tibetans and shot some of them staging anti-China protest in front of the main Chinese security office in Khekor Township, according to an exile monk with contacts in the region.

The protesters shouted slogans demanding “greater freedom” for Tibet and “the unconditional return of Dalai Lama,” the source said.

The protesters who have been shot by the police have reportedly suffered serious injuries and it is not yet known if they have survived the shooting and where they could be currently held.

According to the source, the incident happened a day after several Tibetans in the area displayed their discontent with Beijing’s rule by hoisting a large Tibetan national flag, banned anywhere in Tibet.

The source said additional police have been deployed and security beefed up in the area following the two incidents and communication lines have been cut off since then.

RFA has more details, although it’s unclear why the names of the casualties are different in their story:

The protesters came from three local villages and shouted slogans calling for freedom for Tibet, the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and the release of the young man identified by the Dalai Lama as the incarnation of the Panchen Lama, Norbu said.

The Panchen Lama selected and promoted by Chinese authorities is widely rejected by Tibetans as a fake.

“Some of [the protesters] were detained,” Norbu said, “and when another group of Tibetans went on Monday to appeal for their release, the police and the Tibetans argued, leading to the shooting and wounding of two of the Tibetans, Goda and Druglo.”

Finally, The Guardian has a piece about how much of the trouble in Tibet comes directly from reactions to Chinese security policies:

In 1951, Phuntsok Wangyal was a young Tibetan communist determined to bring much-needed social and political reform to his homeland. He marched in the advance contingent of the People’s Liberation Army that reached Lhasa in 1951 and became the most powerful Tibetan figure in the new communist regime. For this reason, many Tibetans regarded him as a traitor.

Yet by 1958, Phuntsok Wangyal’s star was on the wane. Mao’s anti-rightist movement marked him out and he was called to Beijing to undergo self-criticism. His crime? Speaking publicly about how the majority Han discriminated against minorities in the new China. In 1960 he was jailed, along with most of his family, and tortured. Released in 1978, he gave up politics for academia.

Phuntsok Wangyal wasn’t quite finished though. In 2006, and in his mid 80s, he wrote a series of letters to Hu Jintao, general secretary of the Chinese Communist party, pointing out where China had gone wrong in Tibet – and reiterating the charge of Han chauvinism. He ended with a warning: “Comrade Jintao, a single matchstick is enough for the arsonist, but putting out the fire would take a great effort.”

Why Ngaba? As in many towns across Tibet, protests against Chinese occupation during Beijing’s Olympic year were suppressed with ruthless determination. At least 10 monks from Ngaba’s Kirti monastery were shot dead by the authorities during those protests, and the crackdown hasn’t let up.

So what was the match that lit this desperate new chapter in Tibet’s long resistance to Chinese rule? The answer lies partly in a dramatic graph published last week by Human Rights Watch comparing security spending in the different prefectures of Sichuan province. Kardze and Ngaba, with significant Tibetan populations, have roughly four times the amount spent on keeping the peace as other parts of Sichuan.

This didn’t use to be the case. The colossal increase in state security in these Tibetan regions began only in 2006, two years before the Olympics. If China feared embarrassing protests by its minorities while the world looked on, then this pre-emptive oppression made such protests almost inevitable – and set a fire that continues to burn in the most tragic way imaginable.

A few months ago I wondered if these protests would spread. In mid-summer they briefly did, but things have remained much more manageable than the 2008 Uprising so far. Chinese policies have made these regions into a powder keg, though, and a nun joining the dead while police shoot unarmed protesters could be what sets this off into a larger uprising. As always, we’ll continue to follow it here.

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Filed under ethnic conflict, protests, Tibet, violence

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