Thursday, February 19, 2009
China closes Tibet to foreigners
Tourist agencies were contacted on Wednesday by officials and told to cancel all trips for the foreseeable future.
"We had a meeting with the tourist bureau and were asked to stop all groups from entering Tibet for at least the next couple of months," said Wan Feng, at Tibet Yak Travel.
Foreigners require a permit to enter Tibet, but Youth Travel Service, one of the largest travel agencies, said few, if any, permits were being issued."It is very very difficult to get a permit at the moment. We will have to wait and see when they become available again," said a spokesman.
Another company, Tsedang China Travel, said it was unsure whether travel would even be possible in April. Mr Wan said the ban on foreigners was for "sensitive, political, reasons".The ban extends into some parts of the three provinces surrounding Tibet where ethnic Tibetans live.
Officials in Gansu confirmed that tourists are now being turned away from Tibetan areas until further notice, while officials in Sichuan said tourists travelling along the road to Tibet were being stopped. In Qinghai, officials said foreigners have always been banned from areas where Tibetans live, including Qilian mountain, one of China's most beautiful landmarks.
China has tightened its grip on Tibet ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama's exile on March 10. Last year, a peaceful protest by around 200 monks to mark the anniversary spiralled into violent riots. The Chinese government says 22 people died during the protests, but human rights activists believe many more were killed by police.
Tensions this year are already high. Chinese security forces have already allegedly beaten and arrested up to 24 Tibetans for protesting in Lithang County, a Tibetan area of Sichuan. The protests started last Sunday when Lobsang Lhundup, 39, a monk from Nekhor monastery, held up a picture of the Dalai Lama in the main market and shouted "Free Tibet!"
Many Tibetans also refused to take part in Chinese New Year celebrations this year, adding to the tension with the Han Chinese living in Tibet. There have also been several reports of Chinese soldiers being posted to monasteries and one witness said snipers had been placed on the roofs of important temples in Lhasa.Previously, the Chinese government said that foreign journalists would be welcome in Tibet in March in order to cover the event that it has dubbed "Serf Liberation Day". The government said the exile of the Dalai Lama marked the moment when Tibet entered the modern era, abolishing feudalism and leading to millions of slaves being freed. However, attempts by journalists to arrange trips to Tibet over the anniversary period were firmly rebuffed.