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Nuns, Monks Expelled from Huge Community

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 01/08/21; August 21, 2001.]

Beijing Tightens Grip on Important Religious Centre.

South China Morning Post
Tuesday, August 21, 2001
BILL KAZER in Shanghai.

Beijing has expelled hundreds, if not thousands, of Tibetan nuns and monks from a remote Buddhist institute and dismantled many of their hillside homes to tighten its grip on an important religious centre.

Tibetan support groups and Chinese residents of a nearby town said the dismantling of homes at Serthar had started in June and many of the residents - once estimated at 6,000 to 7,000 - had been forced to leave.

In a report from its London office, the Tibetan Information Network quoted sources who had recently left the settlement as saying the moves had been made on order from Beijing. The objective was to reduce the size of the community to about 1,000 monks and 400 nuns by October.

The Serthar religious settlement - founded by Khenpo Jigme Phuntsog in 1980 to help revive Buddhist scholarship and meditation - housed the largest concentration of monks and nuns in Tibetan areas and included nearly 1,000 Han Chinese students.

The population is said to have swelled at times of religious festivals and special teachings.

Officials from the town of Serthar, about 15km from the religious settlement also known as Larung Gar, said student registration was under way. "We are registering people who study Buddhism there," an official said, adding it was for security reasons.

Asked about demolitions, another official said he could not discuss the events with outsiders.

But residents said many houses had been dismantled and most of the nuns, estimated at about 3,000 at one point, had been forced to leave. "The nuns left first. Then some of the monks," a resident said.

Roads to the settlement were sealed off before officials and armed police moved in to prepare the clearing operation. Previous attempts by the authorities to reduce the numbers of monks and nuns proved difficult to enforce.

Reports also pointed to deaths after long interrogations, but town residents said they were unaware of any fatalities.

The whereabouts of founder Khenpo Jigme Phuntsog, 68, were unclear.

He has been said to be confined to his residence and kept under supervision. He is also said to be in poor health.

The Tibetan Information Network said Khenpo Jigme Phuntsog was believed to have appealed to officials to safeguard religious belief in accordance with China's constitution.

Khenpo Jigme Phuntsog was recognised in his teens as the Reincarnation of Lerab Lingpa (1856-1926), a Nyingma teacher of the 13th Dalai Lama.

He was singled out as a "class enemy" during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, although he survived by living in remote and isolated areas.

The Tibet Information Network quoted an unnamed Western Buddhist scholar who visited Serthar as saying: "Serthar just isn't a politicised place. It is a place for genuine students of the Dharma and as such attracts scholars from all over China and Tibet."

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