Tibetans Clash with Chinese Over Fur Bonfires
[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 2006/02/20; February 20, 2006.]
By Richard Spencer in Beijing
Tibetan followers of the Dalai Lama have clashed with the Chinese authorities after an unusual series of organised burnings of animal skins and fur-lined clothes, campaigners said.
The Dalai Lama made a seemingly innocuous call last month for Tibetans to stop wearing the skins of protected animal species. Tibetans have often worn animal skins as decorations, and clothes lined with furs, including from tigers, leopards and otters suddenly became fashionable in recent years.
The call was taken up with such alacrity that the Chinese saw it as a political statement of support for the Dalai Lama, whose continued popularity remains one of their greatest sore points.
According to the Wildlife Trust of India, which was shown a smuggled tape of the burnings, nine people were arrested as the police moved in to put an end to the bonfires. The group said "they were charged for public unrest and colluding with the Dalai Lama".
Relations between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama, who is living in exile in Dharamsala, northern India, are in an uncertain phase. A group of the Dalai's emissaries are currently in China, on what is assumed to be part of a series of contacts between the Communist authorities, who accuse the Dalai of wanting to "split" China, and the Tibet government-in-exile.
Supporters say the Dalai's statement about protected animals was not intended to be political but a response to a series of calls from environmental groups, concerned at an upsurge in the smuggling of rare animal skins into China and Tibet.
The smuggling had caused anger in India, which has suffered from extensive poaching of tigers and other wildlife. But the Tibetans responded with enthusiasm. "An estimated six hundred million yuan [£43 million] worth of animal skins have been burnt in eastern Tibet alone," said Lobsang Choephal, the monk who smuggled the videotape, in Dharamsala on Friday.
"These events are significant for us as they show the world and especially China that Tibetans all over listen to the Dalai Lama and are willing to make sacrifices if he wishes so," he added.
Reports say that hundreds of people have been digging through their wardrobes for fur-lined garments.
Kate Saunders, of the International Campaign for Tibet, said bonfires had been lit in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, and on hillsides near monasteries in Tibet and Tibetan-occupied parts of neighbouring provinces.
She said that finally the authorities had stepped in to ban a mass burning planned at a monastery at the town of Rebgong, and added that she had been told of eight arrests.
"They are letting them burn skins in their own homes, but the situation is very tense," she said. "This is not going to go away."
She added that neither the Dalai Lama nor the Tibetans had political motives.
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