Lithang annual horse-racing festival uncertain, troops mustered

15, July 18’08

It remains unclear whether the annual summer international horseracing festival at Lithang County of Kardze Prefecture in Sichuan Province for this year will be held, with Radio Free Asia (RFA, Washington, DC) reporting Jul 11 that it had been cancelled and the exile Tibetan government’s reporting Jul 14 that the event will be held as a public relations ploy.

The doubt arises in view of the fact that at the event’s opening last year on Aug 1, a nomadic village-head name Runggye Adrak started a protest that soon developed into massive Tibetan demonstrations and standoffs between hundreds of Tibetan protesters and the Chinese police. Sporadic protests after the Mar’08 uprising are still continuing in neighbouring Kardze County while Lithang remains under intense repression since the events of Aug 2007. On the other hand, the authorities are reported to be anxious to present to the outside world an appearance of normality having returned to the area, no matter how much repression it may take to achieve this public relations goal.

The report said that the decision to hold the festival for this year was taken at a closed-door meeting around Jul 4 between the county party boss and the county police chief. It said the meeting also discussed about making strict security arrangements with deployment of huge Chinese forces. The report noted that although the event was considered likely to be banned for this year, the authorities decided to hold it in order to convey to the outside world an impression of the restoration of stability in the area.

The RFA report said Lithang and its surrounding area was already teeming with Chinese troops conducting firing drills and other military exercises designed to intimidate the local Tibetans.

“The noise from the firing drills and explosions is so intense and loud that no birds are flying in the area,” the report quoted a local resident as saying. As a result, carrion birds that feed on corpses were getting chased away, making it impossible for the Tibetans to carry out the traditional sky burial of their dead.

The report cited numerous exile Tibetans with relatives in Lithang as confirming a build-up of security forces around the town and its monasteries since Jul 5. Tibetan residents of neighbouring counties, including Nyakchuka (Chinese: Yajiang), were banned from visiting Lithang town. Troop deployment was reported to have taken place in several sensitive areas of Lithang. “A contingent of more than 600 Chinese soldiers is stationed very close to the monastery of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in Nyakchuka county. The Chinese army camp is only two miles from the monastery,” Tenzin Dorjee, a former monk in Lithang now living in Drepung Monastery in India was quoted as saying.

Yonru nomad Ronggyal Adrak who on Aug 1, 2007 led the protest with calls for the Dalai Lama’s return was later jailed for separatism. The nomads and monks in the county have been under intense patriotic education since the crackdown on the protest that threatened to escalate into a bloody confrontation between Chinese troops and Tibetan protesters.


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