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Photo evidence of Tibet horror comes to light

March 19, 2008

From The Globe And Mail – Gruesome new photos showing Tibetans shot to death in Western China have provided fresh evidence of a Chinese crackdown on Tibetan protesters as the Dalai Lama threatens to resign if the violence spirals out of control.

The photos (many of them too graphic to publish) appear to show bullet holes in the blood-stained corpses of several Tibetans in China’s Sichuan province. They are the first hard evidence that Tibetans were shot to death during the Chinese security crackdown in recent days.

Nearly 100 Tibetans have been killed in the crackdown, including 19 yesterday, and hundreds more have been arrested, according to Tibetan activist groups. China says 16 people were killed by Tibetan rioters in Lhasa last week, and it alleges that the Dalai Lama has “masterminded” the violence.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao took a hard-line stand on the conflict yesterday, accusing the “Dalai clique” of inciting the violence in a plot to “undermine” the Beijing Olympics this summer.

The Dalai Lama called for peace by both sides. “If things become out of control, then my only option is to completely resign,” he told a news conference yesterday at the headquarters of his exiled government in northern India.

A spokesman said the Dalai Lama was referring to his political role as head of the exiled government, not his religious role as the Tibetan spiritual leader. “As a monk, he cannot compromise on non-violence,” said Thubten Samphel, secretary for information and international relations at the Tibetan government-in-exile.

“If the mainstream Tibetan movement resorts to violence as a means to resolve issues, he will step down from the political leadership of the Tibetan people,” the spokesman said in a telephone interview from India.

In Sichuan province, which borders Tibet, up to 20 Tibetans were killed by security agents who opened fire on protesters this week, according to Tibetan activist groups. They provided the names of nine dead protesters, along with other personal details of most of them.

The grisly photos showed the naked or semi-naked corpses of Tibetans covered in blood, with severe wounds visible. Most seemed to have bullet holes in their heads, arms or chests. They were available on the website of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, but their authenticity could not be confirmed.

“The important thing about these photos is that they clearly show people who were shot,” said Robert Barnett, a Tibet expert at Columbia University in New York.

He noted that China has never alleged the Tibetans have used guns, and there have been no independent reports of guns among the Tibetans, so the bullet wounds could only have come from the Chinese side.

“This does look like the first concrete evidence of security forces killing demonstrators,” Mr. Barnett said in an interview. “It seems to show that the Chinese authorities opened fire with an intent to kill. It’s the first time that we’ve seen the Tibetans documenting what is happening and giving us an accurate picture of what’s happening.”

Protests continued to erupt in Tibetan regions of Western China yesterday, and even on the outskirts of Lhasa. The exiled government said 19 Tibetan protesters were killed by security forces in Gansu province yesterday.

Another report said nearly 1,000 Tibetans have been arrested in house-to-house sweeps by security agents in Lhasa, where thousands of military and paramilitary troops have occupied the Tibetan capital.

Journalists have been barred from entering any of the Tibetan regions, despite Chinese promises to allow free movement of journalists in this Olympic year.

Comments by the Dalai Lama yesterday could be a “major signal” of his willingness to resume negotiations with the Chinese government, despite the intense emotions of the past several days, Mr. Barnett said. “I think it’s pretty important. The Dalai Lama is signalling that he’s leaving the door open to negotiations.”

Mr. Wen’s comments, however, seemed to leave little hope for compromise, Mr. Barnett said. “The Chinese seem to be moving to a very hard-line position,” Mr. Barnett said.

The Dalai Lama ridiculed China’s allegation that he had “masterminded” the violent protests in Lhasa last week. In fact, China might have used secret agents to instigate the violence to discredit him, he said. “It’s possible some Chinese agents are involved there. Sometimes totalitarian regimes are very clever, so it is important to investigate.” But he also added: “We must build good relations with the Chinese. We should not develop anti-Chinese feelings. We must live together side by side.”

The Dalai Lama’s representatives have held annual talks with mid-level Chinese officials since 2002, but no significant progress has been made. Many younger Tibetans in the exile community have complained that the Dalai Lama’s moderate policy — the so-called “Middle Way” — has failed to achieve any results, and they argue for a more aggressive push for an independent Tibet.

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