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Construction of Controversial Tibet Railway to Start This Month

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 01/06/17; June 17, 2001.]

BEIJING, June 17 (AFP) - Work on a controversial rail link between western China and Tibet will begin later this month, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday.

The vast construction project to join Golmud in Qinghai province and Lhasa, capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, 1,118 kilometres (650 miles) away, will begin on June 29, it said.

Companies which successfully bid for contracts on the state-funded project were already moving equipment to the work site, the agency said, quoting sources in the railway department.

Simultaneous ceremonies in Beijing, Lhasa and Golmud on June 29 would mark the start, it added.

The plan has been dubbed the highest railway in the world -- four-fifths of it will be at an altitude of 4,000 meters (13,120 feet) or higher -- but it has also attracted criticism.

While admitting it could bring economic benefits to Tibet, rights groups for exiled Tibetans have condemned the rail line for being a part of Beijing's effort to encourage Han Chinese migrants to settle in the Tibetan region.

Such efforts were already diluting the Tibetan population and were making Tibetans second-class citizens in their native lands, the London-based Tibetan Information Network (TIN) said when the plan was announced in February.

The construction of a railway to Tibet has been a Chinese ambition since the 1950s, but the unique difficulties of altitude and terrain have so far prevented the realization of the project. Tibet at present can only be accessed by air or via tortuous roads.

Construction of railways in the 1960s to Urumqi and Kashgar in the westernmost Xinjiang Autonomous Region was accompanied by a significant influx of Han Chinese migrants, as was the establishment of a railway to Golmud, TIN has said.

Xinhua said Sunday the railway would be completed in six years, based on a feasibility report drawn up by more than 1,700 engineers.

Health protection measures for workers toiling at altitude were being prepared, including the construction of hospitals along the route, the agency added.

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