March 9, 2009 / 3:15 AM / 10 years ago

China's Hu demands wall of stability in Tibet

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Hu Jintao demanded a “Great Wall” of stability in Tibet 12 months after a wave of unrest and as the Dalai Lama prepared to mark 50 years since he fled his homeland.

Soldiers clean up the Potala Palace square in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region March 7, 2009. REUTERS/China Daily

Hu’s demand came as security forces across the mountainous region dismissed the possibility of renewed protests from discontented Tibetans, but said they were on guard.

Hu, who once served as Communist Party secretary of Tibet during an early wave of protest, was not so sanguine.

“Tightly grasp the big tasks of development and stability ... Ensure national security and Tibet’s social stability,” he told Tibetan delegates to the national parliament, now holding its annual session in Beijing, China Radio International reported on its website (gb.cri.cn).

“We must build a sturdy Great Wall against separatism and to protect the unity of the motherland, advancing Tibet from basic stability to ensuring lasting order and tranquility.”

Hu’s comments were China’s latest and most senior warning against groups that may seek to show discontent with its rule in Tibet, half a century after the Dalai Lama fled into north India after a failed insurrection against Chinese rule.

A year ago, monk-led protests against Chinese rule in Tibet’s regional capital, Lhasa, gave way to rioting on March 14 when a Tibetan crowd attacked shops run by Han Chinese and Hui Muslims, killing 19 people. The unrest and subsequent security crackdown spread across Tibetan areas.

Groups abroad demanding Tibetan self-rule have said more than 200 Tibetans may have died in the clashes. Chinese officials have rejected these claims and said they used minimal force.

Kang Jinzhong, Communist Party commissar of the Chinese People’s Armed Police in Tibet, said he expected no unrest but anti-riot forces were ready, the Xinhua news agency reported.

“It’s my understanding that now Tibetan society is extremely stable,” Kang said in Beijing, where he was attending the annual national parliament. “As the armed police, we have the ability to deal with any situation as it arises.”

Fu Hongyu, commissar of the Ministry of Public Security’s Border Control Department, told Xinhua that extra security would “fully protect the stability of Tibet’s frontier region.”

“To address stability protection in Tibet, we have deployed troops to strengthen controls along the Tibetan (international) frontier at points of entry and on key sectors and roads,” said Fu.

China shares a border in the Himalayan region with India, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. For many years Tibetans have crossed back and forth, some with official approval and some to study in Buddhist monasteries run by exiled monks.

“CLIMATE OF FEAR”

The Washington D.C.-based International Campaign for Tibet said fear lay behind the outward calm in the region.

Security forces arrested thousands of Tibetans, often seizing them on flimsy evidence of being “splittist,” a report from the group said. More than 1,200 are still missing since the crackdown on the region from March last year, it said.

“There is still an intense climate of fear in Lhasa today,” Kate Saunders, one the authors of the report, told Reuters.

“(Tibetans) have made tremendous steps to show that they answer to the Dalai Lama, not the Chinese state.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry and Public Security Ministry did not immediately comment, nor were they immediately able to provide a number for Tibetans detained but not formally charged.

Some 953 people have been detained and 76 convicted over last year’s violence so far, Chinese officials have said.

SIGNS OF TENSION

Early on Monday, homemade explosives damaged two forestry police vehicles in an ethnic Tibetan area of neighboring Qinghai province, Xinhua news agency said in an English language report.

The explosions came after residents gathered at a police station in support of the driver of a timber truck, who had been stopped at a police checkpoint on Sunday, Xinhua said, citing Lin Yasong, party chief of Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

A German newspaper, the Frankfurter Rundschau, on Friday quoted the Dalai Lama as saying Tibet was very tense and that there could be “an explosion of violence” at any time.

China says the Dalai Lama’s “clique” instigated the unrest last year and it calls him a separatist using religion to press for an independent Tibet. The 73-year-old monk says he opposes violence and wants only high-level autonomy, under Chinese sovereignty, for his homeland.

Additional reporting by Matthias Williams in DHARAMSALA and Lucy Hornby in BEIJING; Editing by David Fox

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