A second Tibetan from Amchok town in Gansu province (the Tibetan area of Amdo) has been killed by police in a late-night raid on January 8. Gurgo Tsering, who was in his mid-thirties, was shot dead and another Tibetan, Gonpo Kyab, was detained, apparently under suspicion of stealing from the site of an important new civil airport under construction in the area. The area has been tense for some time due to local people’s concern about the airport, and the death of Gurgo Tsering was followed by protests from local people and a buildup of military in the area.

In a separate incident last month, a Tibetan man in his twenties from Amchok was beaten to death by police on December 9 (2011) after he was stopped for driving a motorbike in the town of Labrang (Chinese: Xiahe) in Gansu, eastern Tibet (ICT report, Tibetan beaten to death by police in Labrang – 15 December 2011).

According to exiled Tibetan sources from Amchok, which is in Sangchu (Chinese: Xiahe) county, Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu Province, armed police and special forces went to a village in Amchok on the night of January 8. They arrived at Gonpo Kyab’s home, where another villager from a different village in Amchok was staying, Gurgo Tsering. As they raided the house, police fired a gun through the window, which killed Gurgo Tsering. They took Gonpo Kyab, also in his mid-thirties, into custody.

According to the same sources, the police were detaining Gonpo Kyab under suspicion of stealing some tents from the construction site of an airport that is being built in the area for Sangchu county, although there was no evidence that he or Gurgo Tsering had any involvement, according to Tibetan sources.

Once the news spread about the death of Gurgo Tsering, who is from Ngagor village in the Amchok township area, there were protests by local people. According to a Tibetan source cited by Radio Free Asia today, following the shooting, Tibetans ransacked the Amchok township police station, damaging windows and doors. This was followed by the arrival of special forces in 22 vehicles in the morning of January 9, according to the RFA report. After an initial clash in which police fired tear gas, “many Tibetans were taken into custody, and many were injured,” the source said, adding that some police were also injured and that two or three vehicles were burned (RFA, Tibetan Villagers Clash With Police – 10 January 2012).

The new civil airport in Amchok (Chinese: Amuquhu) was approved by the State Council in Beijing in 2009, and since then, many local people have expressed their concerns about the project (Xinhua, Construction of airport in Gansu’s Tibetan Prefecture approved – 3 May 2009). “The airport construction site is near an important mountain regarded as sacred by Tibetans,” said an exiled Tibetan from Amdo who spoke to some Tibetans from Amchok who are currently in exile. “Because of the local people’s strong reaction, construction stopped temporarily in 2010 but the year after it started again, and now the airport is nearly complete.” Major Chinese construction projects in Tibetan rural areas can impose great strain on the local population due to the large numbers of Chinese workers.

A Tibetan blogger in Amdo expressed concern in June, 2011, about the airport opening in his home town. In a translation into English by High Peaks Pure Earth (HPPE, 2 August 2011) the blogger wrote: “People are saying, ‘After completing the airport project, our current homes will be destroyed completely and new buildings will be built because the current houses will be not be able to stand when the planes fly.’ These are the most reliable predictions of my hometown by people, based on what they know. In addition, building an airport could also be the first steps towards the building of a new city.”

In a separate incident not linked to events in Amchok over the past few days, a Tibetan man called Chonjor from Amchok was beaten to death by police after he was stopped for driving a motorbike in Labrang. Police apparently suspected him of being someone else, although further details are not known. But the incident, in addition to the death of Gurgo Tsering, is an indication of the serious tensions in the area and dangers for Tibetans at a time of continued crackdown. (ICT report, Tibetan beaten to death by police in Labrang – 15 December 2011).