- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

China’s ambassador to the United States yesterday called the recent unrest and political violence in Tibet a simple issue of law and order and insisted that life already was getting “back to normal” in the restive mountainous region.

Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong made his remarks at a Washington conference even as Chinese authorities were expanding a military lockdown in ethnic-Tibetan areas.

Chinese media said protesters killed a policeman and that security officers responded with gunfire yesterday.

“What has happened in Lhasa is a law-and-order issue,” Mr. Zhou said, referring to the Tibetan capital. “No government in the world would tolerate such looting, burning and killing.”

China’s state-controlled media said yesterday that a mob armed with stones and knives killed a paramilitary officer in southwestern Sichuan province.

“The police were forced to fire warning shots and dispersed the lawless mobsters,” a local official told Xinhua news agency, adding that checkpoints had been placed on all roads to prevent anyone from leaving.

The fighting occurred in the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, an area in Sichuan that is part of historic Tibet.

What began as a peaceful march by monks and nuns grew violent when armed police tried to suppress the crowd, which swelled to more than 200, according to the Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy. It said an 18-year-old monk was killed and that another monk was injured when police fired into the crowd.

The Tibetan uprising is the broadest and most sustained against Chinese rule in decades, and the unrest has spread to neighboring parts of China with large Tibetan populations. Thousands of troops have been dispatched to the region to prevent further outbreaks.

Unrest began March 10 when hundreds of monks demonstrated in Lhasa to mark the 49th anniversary of China’s dominance of Tibet, erupting into violence four days later.

China says at least 22 people have died in Lhasa while estimates of the toll by the Tibetan government in exile range from 130 to 140.

Chinese officials yesterday sharply challenged Western press accounts that the clashes were a reaction to religious or cultural oppression of Tibet by the central government.

Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu toured three Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and announced that “patriotic education” classes would be expanded in the holy sites. Buddhist monks have played a key role in the protests, charging that Beijing is trying to force them to break with the Dalai Lama, their spiritual leader living in exile in Dharamsala.

Mr. Meng was the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit Lhasa since the demonstrations began.

In Washington, Mr. Zhou said, “This is not an issue of religious freedom. People in Tibet have every right to believe or not to believe in a religion.”

He suggested some of the protests reflected unhappiness with Beijing’s efforts to develop Tibet socially and economically in recent years.

“Ask those in Tibet, and they will tell you, there have been tremendous changes there,” he said. “Maybe some don’t like it, but they are a minority.”

Foreign journalists are banned from the Tibet region, making it impossible to independently verify conflicting accounts of the violence.

The Dalai Lama has reiterated his commitment to nonviolence, saying he is ready to hold talks with China over Tibetan autonomy instead of independence. The Bush administration has urged Beijing to open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama.

Jason Motlagh reported from Dharamsala, India.

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