www.TibetanReview.net, Mar 31’08
China mobilized troops and the paramilitary across the Tibetan plateau to crush the uprising, sending in huge reinforcements towards Lhasa and deploying soldiers around many villages as peaceful demonstrations followed by serious disturbances continued to take place in far-flung corners both within the TAR and in Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan. The huge buildup of troops turned small towns across the Tibetan plateau into armed encampments.
Journalists reported seeing columns of trucks, sometimes stretching over several kilometres, proceeding towards Lhasa on Mar 18, 19 and 20. Some soldiers in the vehicles were carrying automatic rifles with fixed bayonets, others were equipped with shields and riot gear, reported Times Online (UK) Mar 20. The words “Chinese People’s Armed Police Rapid Reaction Force” was reported to be written on the side of one of the vehicles.
“One convoy was about two kilometres (1.2 miles) long and contained about 200 trucks. Each had 30 soldiers on board so that’s about 6,000 military personnel in one convoy,” AFP Mar 20 quoted Georg Blume of the German newspaper Die Zeit as saying from Lhasa. Blume was one of the last two western journalists to be kicked out of the city. AFP also cited a BBC reporter as saying more than 400 vehicles were seen heading to Tibet through mountain passes in western China. “Over the past two days I’ve seen increasing numbers of troops heading for the Tibetan border but this is the largest deployment by far,” the reporter was cited as saying without specifying his location because of Chinese restrictions on foreign press reporting in the area.
Tibet.net Mar 26 said there were huge deployments of troops in Drachen (Chinese: Baqing), Sog (Chinese: Sou) and Driru (Chinese: Biru) counties of Nagchu Prefecture in northern TAR. There had been no reports of disturbances from there.
The McClatchy Newspapers (US) Mar 19 reported that the more than 100 paramilitary trucks jamming the main highway leading from central Sichuan into the Tibetan areas in the western part of the province on Mar 18 included ambulances, armoured vehicles and troop carriers, with soldiers carrying automatic weapons.
Although the exact scale of troop deployment could not be ascertained, eyewitness accounts point to a mobilisation unlike any seen since the 1950s, said TibetInfoNet Mar 21.
Elite ground force units used
Although denying it vehemently, China was shown to have used elite ground force units of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to crackdown on the Tibetan protesters. “A substantial number of images show that the (hitherto never deployed) new T-90 armored personnel carrier and T-92 wheeled armored vehicles belonging to the elite ground forces appeared on the streets of Lhasa the same day the crackdown began,” reported Kanwa Daily News (Canada) Mar 21. It said that to cover up the involvement of regular armed forces in the crackdown, the traditional red star of the PLA painted on the armored vehicles were covered white cloths. The red stars painted on the steel helmets of the troops were also erased, it said.
The report said that judging from the military equipment that arrived so quickly in Lhasa, the 149th Rapid Reaction Division of the No. 13 Group Army under Chengdu Military Region and the No. 52 Mountain Infantry Brigade under the Xizang Military Region may have been involved in the crackdown operation. “These are the crack combat units with the most outstanding rapid reaction capability in China’s southwest region,” the report added. It believed that the Qinghai-Tibet Railway had enabled China to transport very rapidly troops with such heavy equipment.