MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Tibetans riot over exploitation of sacred mountain

Published by MAC on 2007-06-11

Tibetans riot over exploitation of sacred mountain

By Benjamin Kang Lim

11th June 2007

BEIJING, June 11 (Reuters) - Hundreds of Tibetans rioted in a remote, sparsely populated area of southwest China recently to stop exploitation of a mountain they consider sacred, several local residents said on Monday.

China maintains a tight grip on dissent and often cracks down hard on public protests, especially in ethnic minority regions, as maintaining social stability is one of the Communist Party's key concerns.

Angry residents of Bamei town, home to an ethnic Tibetan population, in Sichuan province attacked government officials and smashed cars during a protest outside the local branch of a mining company in late May, the residents said.

They were protesting over the exploitation of Yala Mountain -- one of nine mountains considered sacred by Tibetans -- in the Tagong grasslands for lead and zinc. The officials were attempting to mediate.

"For us, the Yala mountain is sacred," a Tibetan lama said by telephone, requesting anonymity. "When the mine owner began exploiting it, people were enraged and tried to stop it."

A Tibetan with knowledge of the unrest said several people were killed, but this could not be independently confirmed, and several locals denied there were any deaths.

A Bamei government official said the rioting had been quelled.

"It has subsided," the official told Reuters. He declined further comment.

Local police, reached by telephone, declined to comment.

Eight Bamei elders have been missing since they tried to petition the Sichuan government in the provincial capital of Chengdu, the residents said.

"All the village elders went missing after they tried to petition the government. We think they have been arrested," one resident said.

The lush grassland lies in a part of western Sichuan that Tibetans have historically considered the Kham region, part of a cultural Tibet that extends beyond the borders of the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

Chinese troops marched into predominantly Buddhist Tibet in 1950 and nine years later the Himalayan region's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile after a failed uprising.

China has kept a tight rein on its outlying regions, home to many minorities but also rich in minerals and energy.

China is hungry for energy, metals and other natural resources to feed its booming economy, the fourth-biggest in the world.

In 2003, Australian miner Sino Gold Ltd. abandoned exploration rights in a Tibetan region of Sichuan following a letter-writing campaign by Australia-based pro-Tibet activists. (Additional reporting by Vivi Lin)

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