Tibet virtually again out of bounds, say exiles
Dharamsala, June 9 (IANS) Tibet is virtually again out of bounds for overseas visitors and the Chinese have stepped up major crackdowns against suspected dissidents in Tibet after two self-immolations last month in Lhasa, say Tibetans living here.
They said the Chinese tourism office has asked tour operators to stop taking foreign visitors to Tibet indefinitely.
"Tibet is virtually sealed off, second time this year. The military build-up is very heavy," Tashi, secretary of the department of information and international relations of the Central Tibetan Administration-in-exile (CTA), told IANS.
He said a massive crackdown was launched after the May 27 incident when two Tibetans set themselves afire outside Jokhang temple, a Buddhist shrine, in Lhasa, the first such incident in the Tibetan capital.
"We have reports that hundreds of people have been detained in major crackdowns in capital Lhasa after the May 27 incident. They have been kept at undisclosed locations," he said, adding, "Even the tourists were banned from Monday, the onset of month-long Saga Dawa festival".
The festival is the holiest period in the Tibetan calendar when the Tibetans turn vegetarian. It marks enlightenment of the Buddha. The festival sees tourists, mainly Buddhists, flocking to the Himalayan region to see the traditional culture.
Tashi said this was for the second time this year, in less than three months, that the entry of foreigners has been banned in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. "The entire Tibet remained cut off from mid-February till March. At that time there were two important events -- the sacred Losar, the Tibetan New Year (Feb 22-24), and Tibetan National Uprising Day anniversary (March 10)."
The Wall Street Journal says Chinese travel agencies announced Wednesday that foreign travellers are no longer allowed to visit Tibet. This blanket ban is Beijing's response to the flood of bad news from the region in recent weeks.
Tibetan advocacy website Phayul.com said major travel agencies in the region were informed in late May by Chinese authorities that travellers from overseas would not be allowed into Tibet. The agencies were clueless about how long the ban would last.
Another daily, The Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk), quoting Carl Burrows, sales director at British operator Explore, said: "The rules and regulations surrounding Tibetan permits have changed frequently over recent weeks, with the authorities denying access to smaller groups at various stages."
"This week our agents alerted us that this may be extended to a blanket ban on tourist permits for the rest of this month, regardless of the number in the group," he said.
The paper says China has banned foreign tourists from visiting Tibet earlier too, usually during periods of unrest and during religious festivals.
Since March 2009, 38 people have set themselves on fire in Tibet to protest Beijing's "repressive policies" and press for the return of the Dalai Lama to his homeland, according to the CTA.
China denounces the Dalai Lama as the "ringleader of the conspiracy of Free Tibet", whereas the Nobel Peace laureate blames Beijing for ongoing self-immolations.
"There are some who feel that the self-immolations have occurred all of a sudden. It is not so and is directly related to more than two decades of policies by local Chinese authorities," the elderly monk told reporters in California in April when asked about the latest cases of self-immolation in Tibet.
Some 140,000 Tibetans now live in exile, over 100,000 of them in different parts of India. Over six million Tibetans live in what is now known as the Tibet Autonomous Region.
"Closing Tibet's door to the outside world and stifling the voices of Tibetans through force will not bring an end to the deepening crisis in Tibet. Instead, the Chinese leadership must address the root causes of Tibetan grievances through dialogue," said Dicki Chhoyang, minister of information and international relations of the CTA.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)
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