Sonam Wangdue and Kunsang Tenzin | Radio Free Asia
Large numbers of Chinese security forces have been deployed this week to Tibetan-populated areas of Sichuan and Qinghai provinces in a bid to deter anti-China protests as residents prepare to celebrate the Lunar New Year beginning Thursday, according to sources in the region and in exile.
The heightened security measures in Sichuan’s Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) and Serthar (Seda) counties and in Qinghai’s Rebgong (Tongren) county follow a similar deployment last week of paramilitary troops to Sichuan’s Ngaba (Aba) county, sources said.
On Feb. 15, convoys of armed police began patrolling Kardze county roads, creating an “atmosphere of intimidation,” a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“Police have set up checkpoints and are examining all vehicles traveling on roads leading to the county seat,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Fearing possible self-immolation protests by the Tibetans, the police are equipped with fire extinguishers and have fire trucks standing by,” he said, adding, “They seem prepared to handle any incident.”
In Serthar—like Kardze a site of earlier protests challenging Chinese rule—“police in riot gear and armored vehicles have been patrolling the roads the entire day,” Golok Jigme, a Tibetan living in Switzerland, told RFA on Tuesday, citing local sources.
“They are equipped with fire extinguishers and armed with tear gas,” Jigme said, adding, “Residents of the area believe they are there to prevent any incident occurring on Tibetan New Year.”
Call for ‘vigilance’
Meanwhile, in Qinghai’s Rebgong county, security forces in riot gear have been parading on foot in the streets, followed by police vehicles, a local source told RFA.
“The Tibetans are really rattled by this show of force,” he added.
“Police are entering restaurants and karaoke bars and forbidding any sale of alcohol during the Losar period. Anyone found not in compliance will be thrown in jail,” he said, adding that local government officials have also been warned to report to work and told to stay “vigilant” during the two-week Lunar New Year observances.
Local Tibetans are frustrated with the restrictions being placed on them and are accusing the Chinese authorities of interfering with their celebrations, he said.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Chinese rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008, with 136 Tibetans to date setting themselves ablaze to oppose Beijing’s rule and call for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
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