- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

BEIJING (AP) - A Tibetan Buddhist monk who called for protests against Chinese authorities in the country’s southwest has been found dead after a police chase, an exiled monk said Tuesday.

Phuntsok Rabten, 27, had fled on a motorcycle after police in a van discovered him distributing flyers urging Tibetans to leave their farming plots untended, said Konchog Norbu, a Tibetan monk who lives in India.

The boycott was intended as a protest against Beijing’s massive crackdown on anti-government demonstrators last March, Konchog Norbu said.

“Nobody knows what happened after that,” the monk, speaking through a translator, said by telephone from the southern Indian town of Mungod. He said Phuntsok Rabten was from Draggo monastery in Ganzi, a predominantly Tibetan prefecture in Sichuan province.

“The next morning (Thursday), someone from the village found his dead body at the bottom of a hill,” he said.



Konchog Norbu, a former resident of the area, said he had been told about the incident by another Draggo monk but refused to give his source’s name for fear of official retribution.The Himalayan region is closed to foreign reporters and there was no way of independently verifying the monk’s account.

Security forces poured into China’s Tibetan areas following anti-Beijing demonstrations last year, and their presence has been stepped up again in recent weeks. March marked several sensitive anniversaries for Tibetans, including one year since the anti-government riots in Lhasa, Tibet’s regional capital, and 50 years since the Dalai Lama escaped into exile.

Konchog Norbu said Phuntsok Rabten’s fellow Draggo monastery monks and local villagers carried the body to the man’s nearby ancestral village. They had wanted to parade it through the village, but senior monks dissuaded them from doing so, he said.

Police later that week detained two monks from another monastery in the same county for holding a protest in the area and calling on Tibetans to boycott farming, Konchog Norbu said.

Calls to local police at the county and township levels rang unanswered while a man who answered the phone at the county’s Communist Party branch would not comment.

A monk who answered the phone at Draggo said one of the monastery’s monk had died on Friday, but claimed to have no details. Subsequent calls to the same number were answered by other people who refused to identify themselves and said the number was not that of the monastery but refused to answer other questions.

A rugged, deeply Buddhist region filled with monasteries and nunneries, Ganzi is known for its strong Tibetan identity and has been at the center of dissent for years. It saw some of the most violent protests last spring.

Although the Dalai Lama has said that Chinese restrictions on Tibet’s religious practices have resulted in a “cultural genocide,” Beijing insists it has bettered the lives of the people by improving the economy and developing the Himalayan region.

___

Associated Press writer Ashwini Bhatia in Dharmsala, India, contributed to this report.

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