Chinese military personnel in the streets of Lhasa, Tibet. (Phayul file photo)
DHARAMSHALA, June 7: For the second time in a year, China has cut off Tibet from the outside world with a ban on foreign tourists, just ten
days after two Tibetans set themselves on fire in the nation’s capital Lhasa.
Major travel agencies in the region were informed in late May by Chinese authorities that travellers from overseas would not be allowed into Tibet. The agencies were clueless about how long the ban would last.
“The tourism bureau asked us to stop organising foreign groups to Tibet in late May. We don't know when they will lift the ban,” an employee at the Tibet China International Tour Service was quoted as saying by AFP.
Although the official reason for the ban is not clear, it is widely believed that the twin self-immolations in Lhasa on May 27, followed by the severe security clampdown and reported detention of hundreds of Tibetans could have prompted the ban.
The ban comes less than three months after Tibet was cut off beginning mid-February through March. The year’s earlier ban encompassed two important events; the Tibetan New Year from February 22-24 and the Tibetan national uprising day commemorated on March 10. Three years ago, demonstrations on March 10, 2008 had led to the biggest ever pan-Tibet uprisings seen for many decades.
Last year also China banned travel to Tibet around this time of the year, coinciding with the grandiose official celebrations in Lhasa to mark 90 years of the Communist Party of China and 60 years of Tibet’s “peaceful liberation”.
Dorjee Tseten, 19, a native of Bora, Labrang Tashi Khyil in Amdo,eastern Tibet along with his friend, Dargye (Darjey), 25, a native of Ngaba, set themselves on fire in front of the Jokhang temple, one of the holiest shrines in Tibet on May 27.
Dorjee Tseten passed away while Dargye is believed to be alive.
Following the fiery protests, Lhasa is currently reeling under a heavy security lockdown with hundreds of Tibetans reportedly detained, including many who had witnessed the self-immolations.
Days after the self-immolations in Lhasa, Rikyo, a mother of three, set herself on fire in Zamthang, eastern Tibet. She passed away at the site of her protest.
Since 2009, thirty-eight Tibetans in Tibet have set themselves on fire demanding the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from exile and freedom in Tibet.