Monks face punishment for protest in front of journalists in Lhasa

Beijing - The Tibetan monks who held a daring protest in front of a group of visiting journalists in Lhasa are to face punishment for their actions, informed sources said Sunday.

Officials in the Tibetan capital who hosted a brief visit by international diplomats shortly after the protest reported that no- one had asked what would happen to the monks, "but whoever exhibits separatist tendencies will be punished according to the law."

The quote came Sunday from sources who had been informed about the trip to Lhasa by diplomats from 15 embassies in Beijing.

The journalists had been told that the monks from Jokhang temple would not be harmed, but exiled Tibetan groups said that was doubtful.

The diplomatic delegation to Lhasa, which lasted less than 24 hours, was "a very tightly but not very cleverly organized attempt to show the official Chinese point of view," the sources said.

The diplomats made it clear that they "were not satisfied with the show" and that China must allow more transparency.

At least one diplomatic source described the trip as "a step in the right direction" in allowing more independent observers into Tibet.

Questions from the diplomats about the causes of the unrest and about the circumstances under which it was brought under control remained unanswered.

Officials in Lhasa stressed to the group that it was "neither an ethnic nor a religious conflict."

It was rather a separatist action "by a handful of violence-prone troublemakers," whom the officials described as "wastrels and unemployed people," the sources said.

At the same time, the officials stuck to the official line that the Tibetan spiritual leader and head of the government-in-exile, the Dalai Lama, was orchestrating the protests from outside the country.

One of the diplomats described this argument as incoherent.

In response to demands for proof that the Dalai Lama was behind the protests, the diplomats "did not even receive the whiff of a concrete reply."

The diplomats visited Jokhang temple in the heart of Lhasa briefly, but only managed to see one monk. They also visited a hospital and shops burnt out during the protests.

The sources said that the dismay of the victims of the March 14 riots, in which violent Tibetans set upon ethnic Chinese, looted their shops and set the buildings on fire, was nevertheless "genuine" and "not acted out." The people had really been afraid, they said.

They also heard reports that the police held back on the day of the riots, which could have been a reason for the large extent of the damage to Chinese-owned property.

Asked why the security forces had not been prepared for the protests by the monks and for the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against the Chinese in 1959, the leader of the district administration replied, "I don't know anything about an anniversary." (dpa)

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