More protests have occurred in eastern areas of Tibet over the past two days despite the rapid deployment of thousands of heavily armed troops throughout the region since Wednesday March 19. In Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, a heavy police presence was deployed in Tibetan neighborhoods in the immediate wake of the protests in Lhasa.

Sources reported seeing truckloads of heavily armed soldiers moving into the eastern areas of Tibet such as Machu county where dissent has occurred. A Tibetan source close to people in the Tibetan area of Amdo said: “Two people told me that reinforcements for the troops already in Machu were moving in, with truckloads of soldiers stretching a kilometer and a half. They are moving into the countryside in an attempt to isolate ring-leaders of the protest.” On one day alone, Wednesday March 19, BBC reporters on the ground saw more than 400 troop carriers and other vehicles on a main road – the largest mobilization witnessed since the unrest began in Lhasa and spread to the entire plateau.

In Chengdu, reliable western sources in close contact with friends and family in Chengdu and Tibet stated that roads into and out of the Wuhou Si neighborhood in Chengdu were closed off, and the streets were lined on either side with police vehicles with their lights flashing. Armed police were apparently stationed at the gates of an apartment complex in a Tibetan area of the city which is home to many Tibetans, including monks, and not allowing people to leave.

According to military analysts, troops now stationed in Lhasa and other Tibetan areas where dissent has occurred are likely to be from Chengdu, specifically the Rapid Reaction Division of No.13 Group Army under Chengdu Military Region and the No.52 Mountain Infantry Brigade under Xizang Military Region. According to analyst Andrei Chang, writing in Kanwa Defense Review, these troops are “are the most crack combat units with most outstanding rapid reaction capability in China’s Southwest region.”

Further protests in Tibet

Troops are now stationed in many areas of Kham (present-day Sichuan province) as well as fanning out into the countryside, particularly in monasteries, where they are often preventing monks from leaving.

Yesterday (March 21), several hundred armed police surrounded Tarthang monastery in Jigdril county (Chinese: Jinzhi country), Qinghai province and closed off all access to and from the local town after a peaceful protest in the monastery. According to one source, monks who had staged the protest were told to surrender hand over people involved in the protest by midnight. According to the same source, early today, arrests were made, and the monks are now on hunger strike.

The Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy reported that around 200 Tibetan nomads and farmers had staged a peaceful demonstration on March 19 at a primary school compound in Ponkor village, Luchu county (Chinese: Luqu), Kanlho Tibet Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu province. Tibetans reportedly shouted slogans in support of the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama, and Tibetan independence, as well as taking down the Chinese national flag and hoisting the Tibetan ‘snow lion’ flag. The protest was broken up by security personnel and the situation on the ground is tense.

A Tibetan in Tibet told an ICT contact recently: “Now past issues are emerging through the protests. Past sufferings with the Chinese government [are being raised]. Many Tibetans have died, gone to prisons and have gone missing, now and in the past. All families are talking about freedom even more now, because all of the violence that has happened recently. And the fact that the military have taken over Lhasa, and many cities, towns and villages. They have absolutely no freedom now, not even to go to the stores to buy food. In many places all over Tibet, people are offering many butter-lamps for those who have died. They are crying all over Tibet.”

China’s struggles with representation of Tibet unrest: the propaganda war

In Beijing, there were clear signs that the Chinese authorities are struggling with their representations of the situation to the outside world. The state news agency, Xinhua, issued two statements on Thursday (March 20) with one confirming four protestors had been shot dead in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) in Sichuan province – while the other reported that four “rioters” were only wounded. Each report claimed police were firing in self-defense. The statements were issued within minutes of each other, and follow the circulation on the Internet of graphic images of Tibetans killed by gunshot wounds or severe head injuries following protests near Kirti Monastery in Ngaba in which at least eight Tibetans were killed.

Similar discrepancies have occurred in communication of news from Beijing and Lhasa officials. According to the blog Beijing Newspeak, maintained by a Beijing-based media commentator, on March 15, Xinhua was told to say, “Police were forced to use a limited amount of tear gas and fired warning shots to disperse the desperate crowds”. Soon afterwards, on the same day, Tibet Autonomous Region Chairman Jampa Phuntsog told journalists in Beijing, “We fired no gunshots.” Jampa Phuntsog added that western critics should: “go to Tibet themselves to feel the improvements.” Western tourists are thought to have now all left Lhasa, and tourists and press are prevented from entering. It has been “strongly suggested” to foreign non-governmental organizations in Lhasa that they leave, according to sources.

In the past few days, Chinese news outlets have given graphic coverage of rioting in Lhasa and the looting and burning of Chinese shops by Tibetans, leading to a deeply hostile response from many Chinese. In Lhasa over the past few days, Tibetans have been fearful of attack not only by armed troops but also from ordinary Chinese. Eyewitness reports and video footage indicate that violence was used against Chinese people by some Tibetans. One source who has recently left Lhasa said: “Many Tibetans I spoke to were as horrified as many Chinese by the violence against Chinese people, particularly Hui Muslims, that broke out on the streets of Lhasa on Friday [March 14].”

According to several sources, Tibetan laypeople and monks have been verbally abused and even spat upon by passersby in several Chinese cities, including Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu. A similar report has also reached ICT from Singapore. One source told ICT: “I’ve heard reports of monks in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Chengdu, having civilian Han Chinese giving those in robes a hard time. They say some hospitals are refusing to help them [those wounded in protests]. When they arrive at a restaurant, they are told to leave immediately. I know of a few who have stopped wearing monks robes so they don’t bring so much attention.”

A Tibetan researcher from Lhasa who now lives in exile, and who has been monitoring Chinese official websites as well as blogs commenting on the protests, told ICT of his concerns regarding the hostile Chinese reaction to Tibetans: “At the very beginning of the protests from March 10-13, the state-run media of the Chinese kept silent on this. After March 14, the Chinese media started showing some images of the protest, but only images of Tibetans smashing shops, mobbing Chinese, and many things of that kind. At the same time, everything else on the internet about Tibet was strictly controlled and blocked. Many Chinese left aggressive messages on blogs. Tibetans were entirely portrayed as rioters mobbing innocent civilians in order to ignite the sense of nationalism of the Chinese people, and encourage them to forget that the protests have mainly been peaceful. What particularly concerns the Chinese government is the reaction of its own people to the protests. There are so many deeply-rooted problems in China today linked to the economy, unemployment, pollution and human rights, and the government doesn’t want to open a Pandora’s box of dissent.”

“The International Campaign for Tibet calls on governments and opinion leaders to urge China to stop demonizing the Dalai Lama and Tibetans in general,” said John Ackerly, President of ICT. “In particular, we call on President Bush to live up to his rhetoric on religious freedom, and speak out in defense of the Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople people who are being arrested by the hundreds,” Mr. Ackerly said.

“While the leader of one of the largest democracies in the world remains silent, even Chinese living in China are willing to speak out against the crackdown in Tibet.” said Mr. Ackerly. The first point of a 12-point letter issued by 39 prominent Chinese today said: “At present the one-sided propaganda of the official Chinese media is having the effect of stirring up inter-ethnic animosity and aggravating an already tense situation. This is extremely detrimental to the long-term goal of safeguarding national unity. We call for such propaganda to be stopped.”