Mount Khawa Karpo in eastern Tibet
DHARAMSHALA, February 15: Amidst the string of self-immolations and the violent crackdown over mass public dissent in many parts of Tibet, local villagers in the sacred Khawa Karpo region in Kham, eastern Tibet halted a Chinese mining project over the slopes of the sacred mountain last month.
The Sacred Land Film Project, an organisation dedicated at deepening public understanding of sacred places, indigenous cultures and environmental justice, last month reported on the community effort of local Tibetans that eventually resulted in the closing down of the mining project at Mount Khawa Karpo.
Standing above 6700 mtrs, Mount Khawa Karpo is one of the holiest mountains in Tibet, attracting thousands of pilgrims yearly.
In February 2011, a Chinese mining company, along with local Chinese authorities, began a small gold mining operation over the holy mountain without any prior consultation or permission from the local Tibetans in the region.
The controversial gold mining project was built near the village of Abin, which is on the western side of Mount Khawa Karpo, along the path of an 800-year old pilgrimage route that circles the holy mountain.
Attempts by villagers to deal directly with the mining company resulted in threats and violence from agents hired by the company, and harassment and arrests by local police. “On two occasions,” the report said,” men armed with wooden sticks with nails attacked villagers, injuring more than a dozen”.
“After efforts to negotiate with the local government failed, villagers pushed $300,000 worth of mining equipment into the Nu (Salween) River,” the Sacred Land Film Project reported.
However, a few months later, mining resumed and tensions began to mount again,
“Harassment, death threats and attacks on villagers increased, and some women and children fled to other villages to escape the violence,” the report said.
On January 20, after a village leader was “ambushed and arrested” by local police, around 200 community members surrounded the police station, and an ensuing riot resulted in “violence and injuries on both sides”. At least one villager was hospitalised with serious injuries as protests continued with villagers demanding the closure of the mine, the report said.
As hundreds of more villagers from the surrounding areas started joining in, the local government, in an effort to contain the worsening situation, held negotiations with the community on behalf of the mining company, according to the report.
“On January 23, with tensions mounting, a vice-official from the prefecture government ordered the mine closed and the equipment trucked out of the village,” the report said.
In an announcement last year, China said it will invest nearly 18 billion Yuan ($2.82 billion) in the coming five years to exploit minerals in the so called Qinghai region of eastern Tibet.
"Qinghai aims to earn a revenue of 17.9 billion Yuan for excavating coal, iron, gold, potassium salt, copper, lead, zinc and cobalt within five years," the Qinghai Land and Resources Department had said.
Tsering Woeser, noted Tibetan blogger has frequently reported on the growing number of mines on the Tibetan plateau and the protests carried out by local Tibetans at various mining sites.
“For the past few years, Tibetan villagers have been protesting against the mines and writing letters to the Chinese government asking for their concerns to be addressed,” Woeser said. “But the government never cared.”