(TibetanReview.net, Feb 21, 2009) — The Chinese government has banned foreigners from travelling to most of the Tibetan regions across the Tibetan Plateau and followed it up with massive deployment of troops ahead of two sensitive events: Losar, or the Tibetan New Year, on Feb 25 for which there is an ongoing boycott campaign to mourn for the hundreds killed by Chinese troops last year, and the 50th anniversary of the Mar 10 Tibetan uprising.
Columns of army vehicles have been seen clogging narrow mountain roads into Tibetan-populated regions of Sichuan province in the past few days, reported Times Online (UK) Feb 21. It said the soldiers had been sent out from the Chengdu Military Region — one of seven military commands in China – along with members of the paramilitary People’s Armed Police. It said their numbers could amount to as much as two divisions, or as many as 20,000 men.
The report cited local sources as saying the troops had even been permitted to carry loaded weapons, a rare and extreme measure for soldiers supposedly operating within the national borders.
In Hongyuan (Tibetan: Kashog) County in Aba (Chinese: Aba) Prefecture, sources were reported to describe troops arriving in large convoys stretching into dozens, sometimes hundreds, of vehicles. “The town will be pretty much closed from Feb 22 because on Feb 25 the PLA will hold a military exercise here,” it quoted a resident as saying.
The report said that residents in several other towns had described seeing increased troop movements in the past few days. In particular, round the clock army patrols were taking place in Aba and Ganze. It noted that in Langmusi, on the border between Sichuan and Gansu provinces, squads of paramilitary had filled hotels in the town surrounded by ancient Buddhist temples.
In Lithang, the report spoke of people having seen about 100 military vehicles on the streets. All police in Tibetan areas of Sichuan had been ordered to report for duty until further notice.
Most of the big monasteries in the Tibetan regions were reported to be surrounded by troops.
The report cited sources as saying that a platoon of 100 soldiers had been deployed on the Gangtuo bridge that crosses a river on the provincial border between Sichuan and Tibet Autonomous Region after reports of an attempt to set off explosives there in the past few days.
In Tibet’s capital Lhasa, the report spoke of the strength of the paramilitary patrol squads having been increased from five men to 13, and their movement through the streets taking place both day and night. It cited residents as saying that at night even armoured personnel carriers were to be seen on the streets, along with numerous military and police vehicles — all driving without their sirens.