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Wary Tibetans set for muted New Year celebrations
Mon Feb 23, 2009 11:12pm EST
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By Royston Chan
TAGONG, China (Reuters) - With communications cut and banners warning residents to banish all thoughts of separatism, the people in ethnic Tibetan villages high in the grasslands of far-western China will pass a more tense New Years than usual.
Almost a year after deadly riots erupted in Tibetan capital Lhasa and triggered unrest in ethnic Tibetan areas in neighboring provinces, Chinese security forces remain on high alert, even amid remote grassland villages like Tagong, a day before the holiday.
"You should understand that the atmosphere this year has been affected," said Sunom Cherong, pausing to pray at a monastery in Tagong, a remote place of worship in Sichuan province.
"This would mean that there would not be much of a New Year atmosphere...because a lot of Tibetans are in jail and also because of these incidents. So I feel people would not be so interested in celebrating," the 31-year-old monk said.
Nestled in a tree-less valley about 3,500 meters (11,500 ft) above sea level, and a long, bone-jarring bus-ride from the nearest major town, Tagong seems an unlikely source of dissent.
But authorities are not taking any chances, bracing for another sensitive anniversary -- the 50th anniversary of the exile of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
China brands the Dalai Lama a separatist and accuses him of being behind anti-China protests which followed last year's violence and disrupted the international Olympic torch relay. The Dalai Lama denies the charges.
In nearby Yajiang, a small farming village perched on the vertigo-inducing road to Tibet, banners warn residents: "Say no to separatism, maintain stability and promote development."
The village's Internet cafe remains empty and residents complain of a lack of mobile phone services.
"I cannot get on to the Internet and also I cannot get much of a connection and service for my mobile phone here," said 19-year-old Liao Dawei.
Further along the road to Tibet in Lithang, Chinese forces detained up to 24 Tibetans for taking to the streets shouting support for the Dalai Lama, an overseas rights group said earlier this month. Local police denied any knowledge.
The protests were sparked by the arrest of a Tibetan who called for a boycott of New Year celebrations, the rights group said.
The boycott has received a mixed reception among local Tibetans, many of whom speak fluent Mandarin and pass national holidays with their ethnic Han majority neighbors.
"Basically I will buy some things and have a meal with my family and friends," said Luo Luo, a 50-year-old Tibetan farmer from the Tibetan community in Xinduqiao village. Continued...
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