BEIJING (Reuters) - China will not punish a group of Tibetan monks for disrupting a government-organized foreign media tour of Lhasa and voicing support for the Dalai Lama, a senior official said in a bid to allay fears of repercussions.
Baema Chilain, vice-chairman of the Chinese-controlled Tibet Autonomous Region, also said “separatists” were planning to disrupt the Olympic torch relay in Tibet.
However, he pledged to ensure the flame’s security there and on its planned ascent of Mount Everest, the state news agency Xinhua reported on Friday.
On Thursday, about 30 monks at the Jokhang Temple, one of the holiest in Tibet, shoved their way into a briefing and spent about 15 minutes telling reporters the government was lying about recent unrest. They also rejected Chinese claims the Tibetan spiritual leader was directing the rash of protests.
These monks who staged the bold protest will not be punished, Xinhua quoted Baema Chilain as saying.
“But what they said is not true. They were attempting to mislead the world’s opinion,” he said. “The facts shouldn’t be distorted.”
The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader who fled to India after a failed uprising in 1959, said on Friday China’s media were using “deceit and distortion” in coverage of protests in Tibet. He said this could cause racial tension between Tibetans and Han Chinese with unpredictable long-term consequences.
“This is of grave concern to me,” the Dalai Lama said in a statement on www.tibet.net, appealing to “Chinese brothers and sisters” to dispel misunderstanding and find a peaceful solution.
“I assure you I have no desire to seek Tibet’s separation. Nor do I have any wish to drive a wedge between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples,” he said.
The Tibetan leader has condemned the violence and denies he seeks more than greater autonomy for his homeland.
More than two weeks of unrest in Tibet and western China, including violence in Lhasa on March 14, and China’s response ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August have sparked international controversy.
China hopes the Olympics showcase the achievements of the world’s fourth-largest economy and its rise as a global power, but the Games have become a lightning rod for criticism.
“To our knowledge, some separatists from within and outside China are seeking to sabotage the Olympic torch relay within Tibet,” said Baema Chilain.
The flame arrives in Beijing on Monday.
“We are confident and capable of ensuring the security of the relay and taking it to the top of the peak,” Chilain said.
In Canberra, Australia, police wrestled one protester to the ground during an otherwise peaceful protest by about 100 Tibet supporters in front of the Chinese embassy on Friday. The Tibetan community has promised a bigger protest next month when the Olympic torch arrives.
In Nepal, where there have been demonstrations almost every day since the trouble began this month, about a dozen pro-Tibet protesters jumped the walls of a building housing the offices of the United Nations on Friday, calling for U.N. intervention following the unrest in the Himalayan region.
More than a dozen Western and Asian diplomats were scheduled to leave for Lhasa on Friday as part of a public relations exercise launched by China to limit the damage from the Tibet crisis, envoys said. They will visit for two days.
Critics of China say there is widespread discontent among Tibetans, including monks, who feel their religious practices are restricted, their culture is being suffocated by an influx of Chinese to Tibet and their autonomy is not sufficient.
About 1,000 paramilitary police entered Kirti monastery in Aba (Ngawa) prefecture, Sichuan province, searching for pictures of the Dalai Lama on Friday, Matt Whitticase of the Free Tibet Campaign said. Telephone calls to the temple were disconnected.
The London-based Campaign said it had received unconfirmed reports from various sources in Tibet that three main monasteries in Lhasa — Ganden, Sera and Drepung — have been cut off since March 11, with no access to food, water and electricity.
“The monks in those monasteries are being starved. The reports have said that Tibetan laypeople have attempted to bring food to the monasteries but have been denied access,” it said.
Baema Chilain, the Tibet official, said the monks at the monasteries and the Jokhang were being “temporarily confined to the premises as the authorities were investigating allegations that some of them led or participated in the violence”.
The International Campaign for Tibet said it had reports of mass arrests of Tibetans in Lhasa, including those known to have studied in India — where the Dalai Lama has lived since fleeing in 1959 — and former political prisoners.
In Lhasa, prosecutors had issued arrest warrants for 30 people in connection with the Lhasa violence, Baema Chilain said. So far, 414 people had been detained, mostly ethnic Tibetans.
China says 19 people were killed in the unrest by Tibetan mobs, but the Tibet government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, estimated there had been 140 deaths in the violence.
Additional reporting by Lindsay Beck and Benjamin Kang Lim in Beijing, James Grubel in Canberra, Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu and Krittivas Mukherjee in New Delhi; editing by Ken Wills and David Fogarty