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Olympics bring no joy for Tibetan monks
AFP[Monday, August 11, 2008 14:14]
KUMBUM MONASTERY - As monks in red and orange robes stroll past tourists snapping photos of the temples, the quiet of the Kumbum Monastery seems a world away from the Olympics in far-off Beijing.

But for many of the monks in this monastery on the edge of the Tibetan plateau in the Chinese province of Qinghai the Games have had a very real impact on their daily lives.

Most monks were unwilling to talk to foreigners or shied away from sensitive subjects when broached.

But several who did speak out, anonymously and with great caution, described restrictions and security measures aimed at limiting their movements and communication around the Olympic Games period.

They said the authorities feared a repeat of the violence and anti-Chinese protests that gripped the Tibetan Autonomous Region as well as Tibetan areas in the provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu five months ago.

"We can't get email until October after the Olympics," said one monk out of earshot of the mainly Han Chinese tour groups.

"The Olympics?" said another monk.

"We wouldn't be able to go and watch them as the train station will not sell us any train tickets, so I don't really care."

The Kumbum Monastery, nestled on a hillside near the Qinghai capital Xining, is a popular tourist site and an important repository for Tibetan art and culture.

It is one of the most important monasteries of Tibet's predominant Yellow Hat school of Buddhism, but since the communists came to power in China in 1949, the number of monks at Kumbum has fallen from 3,600 to about 800.

For many Tibetans living in Qinghai and around the monastery, which lies around 1400 kilometres (900 miles) west of Beijing, there is no border with the Tibet Autonomous Region and they still consider their region part of Tibet.

The Tibet Autonomous Region is what most foreigners know as Tibet, but the other areas in the Chinese provinces are also regarded by Tibetans as part of their ancient homeland.

Unrest erupted in the Tibetan capital Lhasa on March 14 after four days of peaceful protests, turning into a day of violent anti-Chinese riots targetting ethnic Han Chinese businesses and residents.

China reacted by sending in a massive military presence to quell the unrest as it spread, and sealed the regions off from foreign reporters and tourists -- actions that drew condemnation from world leaders and human rights groups.

Exiled Tibetan leaders say 203 people died in the clampdown, although China has reported killing just one Tibetan "insurgent" and accused "rioters" of being responsible for 21 deaths.

The unrest put the issue of China's 57-year rule of Tibet firmly in the spolight in the run-up to the Games and triggered largescale protests around the world.

Pro-Tibet activists have also carried off a series of small but eye-catching protest actions around the Olympic venues in Beijing in recent days, while security remains tight back on the Tibetan plateau.

"The slogan is now about a safe Olympics, and of course in the Chinese way of doing things, they impose more restrictions," said Chan Kin-man, director of the Centre for Civil Society Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"And even if they are just Buddist monks, religious forces are always regarded by the Chinese government as one of the political threats to the regime."

In Kumbum, one monk said they were being watched constantly by the authorities and were pressured not to talk to foreigners.

"They always come to ask us 'where have you been', and 'who have you talked to'", he said.

The monk confided that five of his fellow monks had been detained during the period of unrest, although he said they had since come back to the monastery.

"People say things will get better after the Olympics, but I'm not so sure," he said. "I think things might get worse."
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