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Development

Rail Line: Tibetans See Red

[Tribune News Service. May 15, 2001.]

DHARAMSALA, MAY 15

Terming the proposed Lhasa-Golmud railway line in Tibet as a major link for building up military pressure along the Indo-China border, the Tibetan Government-in-exile today demanded the shelving of the project by China as it was bound to have serious geo-political strategic implications, not only for Tibet but for all neighbouring countries.

Talking to mediapersons, the Minister for Information and International Relations in the exiled government, Mr. T.C.Tethong, said the proposed 2.34 billion US dollars project was directed towards enhancing "national defence and domestic strategy" with no concern for the adverse affect it would have on Tibetís fragile eco-system.

"The decision to construct the rail line connecting central Tibet with China is a political decision with a political and military objective of cementing the Chinese rule over the Tibetan plateau," he stated.

The decision to go ahead with the railway lien, despite experts "objections on the unsustainability of the project, would have a major negative impact not only on Tibet but also on Tibet's neighbours. This would enormously increase Chinese ability to move troops and supplies rapidly across the Tibetan plateau.

"Though we are still in the process of studying the geo-political implications that the rail lien will have, we have identified defence ports with nuclear arsenal from where the mobility will be made easy to increase pressure along the border," said Mr. Tethong. So far the movement of troops and supplies to the borders had remained slow and expensive but he completion of the rail line would enable China to pile up stocks that could last for years, he added.

The minister said neither the exiled Tibetan government nor the Tibetans themselves were against development, but were opposed to projects over which the Tibetan people had no say and which contributed towards undermining their distinct cultural identity.

"Since it is a big project, we feel that China, despite claiming that it will not take any outside help, will resort to overseas investment," he said.

Though plans to connect Tibet with China by rail were discussed as far as 1950, the final decision on the Lhasa-Golmud line was taken by the National Peopleís Congress and the State Council of the Peopleís Republic of China in March this year. The project to be launched in June, 2001, had a stipulated distance of 1,118 km covering four Tibetan prefectures of Golmud, Kyigudo, Nagchu and Lhasa.

To construct the rail line, which would have 30 bridges and tunnels, 67,000 skilled labourers from China and a local force of 16,000 would be drawn from the neighbouring Chinese provinces. The project would attract a massive influx of labourers and immigrants, who would be given special provisions like residentís permit, marginalising the Tibetan population physically and socially,î said Mr. Tethong.

Mr. Tethong said the rail lien would have environmental implications such as erosion, silting and pollution due to drilling and shafting. He urged Tibet support groups throughout the world to campaigns against the project so that it was stalled, otherwise it would prove to be a disaster for the Tibetan people.


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