February 20th: TibetWatch

First off, yet another self-immolation in Ngaba (via Phayul):

The 18 year old teenaged Tibetan, Nangdrol set himself on fire today in the afternoon in Amdo Ngaba, the nerve centre of almost all the Tibetan self-immolations in the recent months.

“Nangdrol set himself on fire and died on the spot. Right now his body is with the Ngaba Dzamthang monastery,” Tsayang Gyaltso, an exiled Tibetan told Phayul citing his contacts in Tibet.The monastery in the region took the charred body of Nangdrol and performed religious services.

AP has more about what happened immediately afterwards:

Following Nangdrol’s death, police demanded that his body be handed over, but monks at his Samdrup Norbu Ling monastery refused, the international campaign said, citing Tibetan monks based in India. More than 1,000 people gathered at the monastery overnight to stand guard over the body, it said.

Chinese security has cut off access to Tibetan areas, making it virtually impossible to independently confirm such acts. Calls to local government and Communist Party offices rang unanswered on Monday.

Chinese police last Wednesday took Tibetan writer Gangkye Drubpa Kyab from his home in Serthar, another restive Sichuan province county near Aba, the Norway-based Voice of Tibet reported over the weekend. The report said he has not been released.

Meanwhile Philip Wen of the Sydney Morning Herald is following up on his amazing reports from sealed-off Ngaba by raising journalistic hell in Amdo, where he interviews former nomads and recounts what China has done to them:

Losang, a dark, stocky man with a shock of jet black hair and a beaming grin, is known as the happiest man in his village. The former nomad cackles with infectious laughter after almost every sentence, even when telling the story of his own misfortune.

Losang and his family are one of more than 100,000 families who have been moved from the grassland plateaus into permanent homes in government-commissioned nomad resettlement camps in Qinghai, as part of a scheme involving the Tibetan-populated regions in the mountainous and remote western reaches of China.

One particularly large village, in Tongde, has row upon row of identical one-storey houses. And with space running out, Tongde is now building dozens of high-rise dwellings, similar to medium-density apartments in inner-city Sydney. There are also plans to provide centralised healthcare and education (in Mandarin). Tibetan nomads roam the grasslands at high altitudes in summer, usually in communities of up to two dozen, travelling wherever the grass is lush and weather fine. Their yaks are essential, used to carry tents and equipment and for their meat and milk, which is in turn used for butter and yoghurt. Even their dung is dried and burnt for fuel.

For Losang, a lifetime in the expansive grasslands of Qinghai’s mountains has ended abruptly. He knows he is never likely to earn enough to accumulate a self-sustaining herd again, having spent most of the money he got from selling his herd on the RMB6000 payment for the house. The government covered the remainder (about RMB14000).

He finds he has greatly underestimated cost of living in a world where nothing comes free. ”When I was a nomad I ate meat everyday, drank yak milk tea and wore sheepskin robes, now I can’t. I have to buy everything. And I even have to eat [vegetables],” he says.

For many ethnic Tibetans, this year’s Losar, which starts on Wednesday, will feel more like a wake.

”Everything is cancelled this year,” Sonam, a 62-year-old nomad village elder in Zeku, tells the Herald over cups of yak butter milk tea and fried dough, both traditional staples of the Tibetan diet.

”Usually we burn incense in the morning and set off firecrackers at night, but this year we feel very sad about those who lost their lives for us, so we won’t do it.”

Emotions in the numerous government-commissioned resettlement villages visited by the Herald ranged from silent frustration to barely-contained anger over a consistent range of issues: treatment of their monks, perceived restrictions on their own freedom to travel and practice their religion, and their loss of quality of life after being moved from herding yaks in the mountains into nomad resettlement camps.

”We heard what was happening [the protests on January 23] and were thinking of doing the same, but then we heard there were more than 3000 soldiers in the area, so we decided not to,” says Namkha , a 55-year-old villager from Tongren, Qinghai. ”The temple leader told us not to for our safety, so we resisted our anger.”

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Filed under ethnic conflict, nomads, Self-Immolation Crisis, Tibet

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