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Chinese Authorities Raze Homes in Historic Center of Lhasa

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 02/05/04; May 4, 2002.]

BEIJING, May 3 (AFP) - Authorities in the capital of Chinese-ruled Tibet have started demolishing Tibetan-style houses near the protected historic city center, disgruntled residents in Lhasa said Friday.

"At the end of April, they gave us five days to move out as they have already started to demolish (homes)," Laurence Vangla, the manager of a French restaurant in the center of Lhasa, told AFP by phone.

Vangla's restaurant is in a three-story home near Barkor Road, which runs around the famous Jokhang Temple, one of the principal sites of Tibetan Buddhism.

Several dozen similar homes, mostly constructed in the 1980s, are expected to fall under the wrecking ball in the next few weeks and will be replaced by more modern cement buildings, she said.

Tibetan prime minister-in-exile Samdhong Rinpoche said he was "deeply concerned" about the demolition of the buildings..

"To destroy them without community consultation would be a serious violation of China's duty to protect cultural heritage," he said in a statement issued in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala, where the exiled Tibetan leadership is based.

"These buildings are not only historical but physical symbols of Tibetan cultural heritage," he said, appealing for the international community to intervene with China.

The evicted residents are unlikely to be able to move back into the historic quarter because the compensation given by the government is far below market prices, another local said.

"They offered us 10,000 yuan (1,200 dollars), but want us to pay 170,000 yuan if we want to come back," he said on condition of anonymity.

The London-based Tibet Information Network (TIN) has long condemned the destruction of Lhasa's historic quarter and linked it with what it alleges is the destruction of Tibetan culture by the Chinese government.

The houses earmarked for destruction could include a 100-year-old home that was supposedly protected by the Lhasa municipal government, TIN said last week in a statement.

The entire Barkor quarter is part of a protected zone established by the World Heritage List of the United Nations.

The UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has expressed concern over the demolition and said it "would try to halt this demolition before it happens," TIN said.

UNESCO has already expressed concern over the construction of a 37-meter (122-foot) high tower commemorating China's 1951 "peaceful liberation" of Tibet in the Potala Square and a 13-story police building just north of the Barkor area.

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