Standoff at Tibet Gold Mine
Tibetans protest mining at sacred site in Chamdo: gold deposits make Ser Ngul Lo valuable, and tensions are rising
Markham, Chamdo Prefecture, TAR, May 24, 2009:
Hundreds of villagers in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of western China are facing off against armed security forces at the site of a planned gold mine on what the Tibetans consider a sacred mountain, witnesses say.
"The Tibetan protesters are worried," said one local man, who said he was one of eight organizers of the protest. "The police, the soldiers, and the miners are threatening to move ahead with the mine...They have said they will force their way through and go to the site. The Tibetans...are vowing to resist even if it means sacrificing their lives."
Tibetans have historically worshiped the site, conducting rituals there in the event of drought, residents say. Now a Chinese mining and lumbering firm, Zhongkai Co., has been authorized to excavate the area, and locals are protesting. Another Tibetan man said hundreds of protesters had gathered peacefully at Ser Ngul Lo ["Year of Gold and Silver" in Tibetan] in the Tsangshul subdistrict of Lhara village, Markham county, Chamdo prefecture.
"Now there are so many soldiers too. I would say more than 300 of them," he said. Another local Tibetan said security forces had cut off the protesters from the rest of the village. "They blocked all phones and even cellphones aren't reachable," the man said. "We can't reach any of the protesters. Today another four vehicles with roughly 30 to 40 soldiers in them went to the protest site. But the Tibetans all put religious books on their heads and are vowing to resist even if it means sacrificing their lives," he said.
A Tibetan employee at the nearby Markham [in Chinese, Mangkang] Hotel said the protest had been continuing for several months. "There is trouble at the mine," she said, adding, "There are more than 300 armed police...The county government also sent more than 100 people. It's been three or four months and is still going on."
An official at the Markham county Public Security Bureau declined to comment on the mine or the protest. Asked if the demonstration had been quelled, he replied, "We are not authorized to say. You should ask [someone] higher-up. It's inconvenient for us to comment."
'Ready to die'
An employee of Zhongkai Co., contacted by telephone, also declined to comment. "I am not clear on the situation at the mine," the employee said. Pema Thinley, vice chairman of the TAR Communist Party, was sent to Markham to try to convince the local population to accept the mine, one of the protesters said. But residents continued their demonstration, and Pema Thinley was escorted back to Lhasa, the regional capital, on April 5.
On May 16, a contingent of police and security forces arrived, but as many as 500 Tibetans blocked the road leading to the planned mine, one of the residents said. "The Tibetans slept on the road day and night and the Chinese group stayed in a school nearby. They were trying to convince us to stop protesting," he said, adding: "The Tibetans declared that they are ready to die to protect the sacred hill.".
—Source: Radio Free Asia, www.rfa.org
Update: June 9, 2009
Mine Dispute Largely Settled
Mining at a site Tibetans regard as sacred will cease, but where will the hazardous waste go?
Talks have resolved a standoff over a planned gold mine in Tibet, but questions remain regarding the disposal of poisonous waste at the site, according to sources in the region.
The dispute over operations at the mine, built by a Chinese firm at a site considered sacred by Tibetans, had continued for weeks, with hundreds of Tibetans protesting the mine's planned expansion and blocking access to the area. Both sides agreed June 8 that the mine—which had operated in Markham [in Chinese, Mangkang] county, in the Tibet Autonomous Region's (TAR) Chamdo prefecture—would cease operations, sources said.
"It was agreed in writing that there will be no mining in the area," said a local Tibetan man, speaking on condition of anonymity. "All the Chinese security forces deployed in the area will be withdrawn. The Tibetans who are blocking the road will also return to their respective areas."
"Chinese authorities will build concrete barriers to block the poisonous residue of earlier mining in the area so that this will not filter down into the drinking water," he added.
All points of agreement were set down in writing in the presence of prefecture- and county-level officials, the source said. Reached for comment, a local security official confirmed that a settlement had been reached. "The issue of mining in the area has been resolved, and the area is quiet," a Markham Public Security Bureau officer surnamed Wang said.
But disagreement remains on the question of handling poisonous waste from the site, Wang said.
"The government has offered to clean the whole area, but the Tibetans want to hold [the residue] as evidence. So it was decided that the Tibetans will hire a professional group from China to examine it, and the government will assign the TAR Environmental Protection Department to carry out its own examination." The matter will be referred back to officials at the county, prefecture, and TAR levels if it cannot be finally resolved, he said.
Residents said protests over the proposed mining plans had been under way for three to four months, following local authorities' approval of plans by Chinese mining and lumbering firm Zhongkai Co. to excavate the area.
Tibetans have historically worshipped at the site, called Ser Ngul Lo ["Year of Gold and Silver"], conducting rituals there in times of drought, residents said. Pema Thinley, vice chairman of the TAR Communist Party, had been sent to Markham to try to convince the local population to accept the mine, one of the protesters said. But residents continued to protest, and Pema Thinley was escorted back to Lhasa, the regional capital, on April 5. On May 16, a contingent of police and security forces arrived, prompting as many as 500 Tibetans to block the road leading to the mine.