Violent protests after monks arrested at motorcycle shop

by Jane Macartney, The Times, November 30, 2007

Beijing, China -- Monks and animal herders rampaged through a remote Himalayan town, smashing government offices, cars and shops owned by Han Chinese, after police arrested and reportedly beat three Buddhist monks.

Chinese officials said that the monks had tried to rob a motorcycle maintenance shop in Paingar, a remote Tibetan town, but Tibetan sources said that the shopkeeper, who was not arrested, had lashed out at the monks. The contradictory accounts expose the rivalry in the deeply Buddhist Himalayan region, where the majority of Tibetans owe their allegiance to the exiled Dalai Lama rather than to the Communist Party leaders in Beijing.

After the arrest of the monks on November 19 hundreds of herders gathered at the Public Security Bureau in Naqu region to demand their release. Officials said that nearly 200 people, including monks, were involved in the violence after police refused to release them. When the police began to film the riot to collect evidence the crowds became even more enraged. One Tibet source said: “The herdsmen were very agitated, they wouldn’t let the police film them.”

To restore order 800 paramilitary police were sent in, the area was sealed off and telephone links were cut. Seven people were arrested, including two of the monks accused of robbery and five others charged with fanning the riot a day later.

The incident is the latest sign of discontent in Tibet, where a heavy-handed security presence and an increasing population of ethnic Han Chinese migrants have stirred resentment among the Tibetan majority.

Protests broke out in a largely Tibetan area in August after authorities arrested a man at a horse racing festival who led the crowd in chanting slogans calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India in 1959. Rongyal Adrak, 53, was found guilty last month of subversion and of inciting separatism, crimes that could lead to life imprisonment.

Most Tibetans say that they yearn for the return of the Dalai Lama but talks between his representatives and the Chinese Government have made no progress.