Tibetan anger threatens peaceful path to freedom: Tim McGirk in northern India's Kinnaur Valley hears growing calls for renewed guerrilla war
Tuesday 25 August 1992
'I have this dream . . . It's a full moon. The sky is clear and sharp, and I'm floating down by parachute into this narrow valley outside Lhasa,' said this 45-year-old Tibetan who, because of his close association with the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual and political ruler, prefers not to be named.
For now, though, this will remain simply one man's dream. Tibetan exiles have no aircraft to drop paratroopers. They have no guns. They have no powerful nation, such as the United States, Russia or India, willing to back them in a lopsided and perhaps impossible guerrilla war against the Chinese Goliath.
The biggest obstacle, though, to renewed warfare against the Chinese is the Dalai Lama himself. A Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of Buddhism's leading spiritual figures, he has implored Tibetans not to use violence, on moral and practical grounds. 'A few guns would be of no use - just a provocation against the Chinese,' he told the Independent recently.
From 1959 through the 1970s, Tibetan guerrillas waged sporadic ambushes against the Chinese, but these ended when first the CIA and then India withdrew support. Retaliation was brutal; villages were bombed and hundreds of Tibetans publicly executed.
Now, however, the Dalai Lama admits there is a growing frustration among Tibetans over what they see as Peking's failure to make any concessions to Tibetan autonomy and his return to the great monastery-palace of Potala in Lhasa.
Lopsang Nyandala, a leader of the pro-independence Tibetan Youth Congress, said: 'There are lots of clandestine groups inside Tibet. The Chinese must listen to the Dalai Lama. Otherwise, we won't stand it any more - we will resort to violence.'
Tibetans were encouraged by the break-up of the Soviet Union, and some officials of the government-in-exile said that within a few years China's Communist regime may also fall apart. 'The change in the Soviet Union was peaceful, but it may happen more violently in China,' said one Tibetan assemblyman. 'If the day comes, we have to be prepared to seize back our country by force.'
For centuries, pronouncements made by the Dalai Lama were considered infallible. This no longer holds true. In June, the Tibetan Youth Congress dared to challenge the Dalai Lama for again proposing that, if Tibet were granted autonomy, China could retain control over its defence and foreign policy.
'If we put religion in everything,' said Mr Nyandala, 'we'll never get anywhere.'
Thousands of Tibetans flocked here to the Kinnaur Valley, in the Himalayan mountains just 60 miles from the Tibetan border, for a sacred rite conducted by the Dalai Lama. But even on this holy occasion, politics intruded. Sonam Rinzin, a bulky, rugged man in his fifties from Kham, was recruiting young Tibetans to an organisation calling itself Tibetan Freedom Fighters' Association.
Mr Rinzin, who had fought against the Chinese in the 1950s, said the organisation had more than 20,000 members among the Tibetan exile community. 'A guerrilla force inside Tibet could create lots of trouble for the Chinese,' he said. 'We used to hide out in the mountains for two months at a time and the Chinese never found us.'
Among the Tibetans crowded on the mountainside to see the Dalai Lama were hundreds of new refugees. Among them was a young nun, Choetsu. She averted her eyes and snapped pine needles nervously as she spoke. 'Why was I arrested? Because I was in the streets celebrating His Holiness being given the Nobel Peace Prize, that was all,' she said.
During her five months in a Lhasa prison, she was raped, tortured with electric cattle prods and had savage mastiffs let loose upon her. 'I feel so angry,' she said, at last looking up from the pine needles. 'I can't control this anger inside my heart, even though it's going against everything the Dalai Lama teaches us.'
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