BEIJING, March 20, 2008 (Canadian Press) — China is sending hundreds of additional paramilitary police to Tibet and restive neighbouring provinces with large Tibetan populations.
At least 80 trucks loaded with security police have been spotted travelling along the main road winding through the mountains into southeastern Tibet.
Meanwhile, other security troops have set up camp and are patrolling in riot gear and, in some cases with rifles, in the area above Tiger Leaping Gorge, a tourist attraction that usually sees little unrest.
Witnesses say such scenes are being repeated across far-flung towns and villages in Tibetan areas of adjacent provinces to reassert control as sporadic demonstrations continued to flare.
Foreigners have been barred from travelling there and tour groups have been banned from Tibet, isolating a region about four times the size of France.
Protests against Chinese rule started peacefully in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, early last week, but erupted into riots last Friday, drawing a harsh response from Chinese authorities. Authorities say 16 people have been killed, but Tibetan exile groups claim more than 80 have died.
The moved to send in additional troops, along with reports of more arrests in Lhasa, came even as the Dalai Lama offered face-to-face negotiations with Chinese leaders.
China says the riots and protests were plotted from abroad by the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader revered by Tibetans, and his supporters.
Speaking from the seat of his government-in-exile in Dharmsala, India, the Dalai Lama reiterated that he was not seeking independence for Tibet.He offered to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other Chinese leaders, though said he would not travel to Beijing unless there was a "real concrete development."
"The whole world knows Dalai Lama is not seeking independence, one hundred times, thousand times I have repeated this. It is my mantra - we are not seeking independence," the 72-year-old Dalai Lama told reporters.
"The Tibet problem must be solved between Tibetan people and Chinese people," he said.At a tense news conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the government suggested that foreign tourists stay out of western Gansu and Sichuan provinces, the scene of additional clashes earlier this week between Tibetan protesters and security forces.After a long pause, he added: "But I shall assure you that our government is fully capable of maintaining social stability and ensuring the security of tourists."In Sichuan's Aba county, a Tibetan woman reached by phone Thursday said she had heard of numerous arrests of protesters in the area.
"There are many, many troops outside," she said. "I'm afraid to leave the house," said the woman, who refused to give her name for fear of retaliation by authorities.Police were checking ID cards at checkpoints and could be heard shouting for protesters to turn themselves in.
Troops blocked roads also in nearby Serthar, also in Sichuan, confining residents to their homes, said a woman reached there by phone.