A Burmese Tragedy

From the news:

May 6, 2008
At least 22,000 people have died and 41,000 more are missing in Burma after typhoon Nargis hit the south of the country on Friday and Saturday. Hundreds of thousands are homeless, according to United Nations officials.

According to eyewitnesses, local Buddhist monks have started to help the victims wherever they can. As drinking water is running out, “they have opened their wells to the people,” said Rémi Favre, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Rangoon, the country’s largest city.
“The monks are working very closely with the people,” Tun Myint Aung told FRANCE 24. A student leader, he has lived in hiding since an uprising involving many monks was suppressed in Burma last September.

According to Aung, the security forces are not taking part in relief efforts.

Two thirds of the known deaths occurred in the town of Bogalay, located in the heart of the Irrawaddy delta. “Some 10,000 people died there – that’s the equivalent of the entire town’s population,” said FRANCE 24 correspondent Cyril Payen from Bangkok, in neighbouring Thailand. The area was hit by 200-km/h winds and water levels rose by up to three metres.
Burma’s regime had to open the door to some degree of international aid to face the crisis. The military dictatorship in power since 1962 has, until now, allowed very few humanitarian workers to enter the country, one of the poorest in the world. It refused international aid after the 2004 tsunami. Burma’s borders are still closed to journalists.

After four days of negotiations, the authorities have slowly started issuing visas to UN agencies and NGOs asking for access to the disaster zone.
Source: http://www.france24.com/en/20080506-30000-30,000-missing-burma-myanmar-cyclone-referendum

May 7, 2008
RANGON — Burma’s military government came under pressure on Wednesday to open its borders to international help after a devastating cyclone that a U.S. diplomat said may have killed more than 100,000 people.
The top UN humanitarian official urged Burma to waive visa restrictions for aid workers and customs clearance for goods which he said were slowing efforts to bring in disaster relief experts and supplies to help an estimated 1 million people affected by Cyclone Nargis.
State Burma radio and television, the main official sources for casualties, reported an updated death toll of 22,980 with 42,119 missing and 1,383 injured in Asia’s most devastating cyclone since a 1991 storm in Bangladesh that killed 143,000.
A U.S. diplomat in Burma said diplomats there were receiving information that there could have been more than 100,000 deaths from the cyclone that smashed into coastal towns and villages in the rice-growing Irrawaddy delta southwest of Rangon
Thailand, China, India and Indonesia were flying in relief supplies and the United States and Australia appealed to Burma’s ruling military to accept their assistance.
Even relief workers of the United Nations, which has a presence in the diplomatically isolated Southeast Asian country, were awaiting visas five days after Cyclone Nargis struck with 190 km/hour winds.

Political analysts and critics of 46 years of military rule say the cyclone may have long-term implications for the junta, which is even more feared and resented since last September’s bloody crackdown on Buddhist monk-led protests.
Water purification tablets, plastic sheeting, basic medical kits, bed nets and food were priorities, UN officials said.
Mr. Holmes said 24 countries had already pledged US$30-million and he expected much more to be offered after the UN sets out its priorities and target for aid in a flash appeal on Friday. He said the UN emergency relief would also contribute at least US$10-million.

The United Nations recognized in 2005 the concept of “responsibility to protect” civilians when their governments could or would not do it, even if this meant intervention that violated national sovereignty.
France’s UN Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert asked the Security Council on Wednesday to take a stand on the crisis by calling for a humanitarian briefing and issuing a statement. He said two or three countries had blocked that on procedural grounds, saying that it was not a security matter.
“We think it’s time for the Security Council to express its concern … to exhort, to ask, to call on the government of Burma to open its border,” Mr. Ripert told reporters, adding that France and others were ready to help but were being rebuffed.
Source: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=499011

May 8, 2008

The United Nations estimates that at least 1.5 million people in Burma have been “severely affected” by Cyclone Nargis — which struck the country last Saturday.
UN humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes confirmed the figure Thursday and told reporters he was “disappointed” that it was taking so long to get aid into the country.
The UN, after days of obstacles from Burma’s isolationist military government, was finally allowed Thursday to land two planes loaded with humanitarian aid. Another two planes are expected to land soon.

Despite the magnitude of the disaster, the junta is continuing to deny U.S. military planes carrying aid.
The government is also holding up visas for UN aid distribution teams. The U.S. is now considering air-dropping aid to victims.
“We’re outraged by the slowness of the response of the government of Burma (Myanmar) to welcome and accept assistance,” U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters Thursday.
“It’s clear that the government’s ability to deal with the situation, which is catastrophic, is limited.”

In order to understand the recent tragedy Burma is going through, namely the devastations caused by the recent cyclone that swept the country, along with the refuse to allow UN convoys with humanitarian help to get into the country, we have to review a little bit what we know about Burma, ruled by the current military junta since 1988.

Burma, now known as Myanmar is located in Southeast Asia.
Burma is bordered by the China on the north, Laos on the east, Thailand on the southeast, Bangladesh on the west, and India on the northwest, with the Andaman Sea to the south, and the Bay of Bengal to the southwest.

It was the scene of bloody battles between the British troops and Japanese troops during WW2. The so-called “Death Railway” that was built by the Japanese using Allied POW’s (that resulted in many thousands of allied prisoners dying in hard-labor building the railway) is in Burma. The so-called “Bridge over the River Kwai” (that was made into a movie) is as segment of this railway.

The Burma Army dictatorship on its own accord changed the name of Burma to Myanmar. Many pro democracy groups including minority ethnic groups and individuals like Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, continue to call the country Burma. Out of respect for their cause of freedom, some members of the international community continue to call the country Burma.

Recently, Burma was in the news due to a UN Security Council vote in which nine members voted for a resolution on Burma. Unfortunately, China and Russia vetoed this resolution, along with South Africa opposing as well.

Who is in the junta?

1. Senior General Than Shwe, 73, is the head of the ruling junta and controls the army. Than Shwe is said to be superstitious and regularly seeks the advice of astrologers.
2. Maung Aye- is also a career soldier and the second most powerful man in the country. He is believed to have established strong ties with Burma’s many drug lords in the Golden Triangle while operating as a colonel in the late 1970s and 80s, before he joined the military leadership in 1993.
3. Lieutenant General Soe Win, 58, was seen as a hard-line operator with close links to Than Shwe. He died of unconfirmed illness and has been replaced as acting prime minister by Lt Gen Thein Sein, who ranks fifth in the military.

What’s happening now?

Well, the ‘generals’ were safe in their new relocated capital and like any ‘respectable’ junta, could not care less about the general population.
It was being reported that the authorities had been warned by India about the cyclone two days before it struck, but had failed to act on the information and evacuate, or at least alert people along the coastline.
I guess the thought of dealing with evacuation was along the ‘too much trouble’ line.

And to add insult to injury, the same authorities that had been quick to send in the soldiers to break up last year’s peaceful demonstrations, suddenly seemed much slower off the mark when helping the people.
The generals may allow international aid in but they will want to control it every step of the way.
In the mean time, The London-based human rights group Amnesty International said some donors were delaying aid for fear it would be siphoned off to the army. The World Food Program’s regional director, Anthony Banbury, indicated the United Nations had similar concerns.
“We will not just bring our supplies to an airport, dump it and take off,” he said. “This is one reason why there is a hold up now, because we are going to bring in not just supplies but a lot of capacity to go with them to make sure the supplies get to the people.”

The imminent dangers are related to malaria outbreaks in the worst-affected area, and fears of waterborne illnesses due to dirty water and poor sanitation.
That’s why safe water, safe food, sanitation and shelters are priorities at this moment.

I wonder if the military junta would still proceed with the referendum scheduled for May 10, 2008?

Canada to outlaw Natural Products?? or Shame on Canada for Bill C-51

What the heck is going on? I was so proud for living here, in Canada, where people’s rights are respected. Not anymore.
I have the right to chose what I believe is good for me and my family. I don’t want or need Big Pharma to tell me what I have to put into my body.
If I don’t want to give my kid antibiotics, I want to have the option of a natural way to enhance his immunity by giving him natural supplements. But it looks like the big pharmaceutical companies are feeling that their profits are not big enough, so they decided to change the legislation.

Here comes Johhhnnnyyy!!!!

A new law being pushed in Canada by Big Pharma seeks to outlaw up to 60 percent of natural health products currently sold in Canada, even while criminalizing parents who give herbs or supplements to their children. The law, known as C-51, was introduced by the Canadian Minister of Health on April 8th, 2008, and it proposes sweeping changes to Canada’s Food and Drugs Act that could have devastating consequences on the health products industry.

Among the changes proposed by the bill are radical alterations to key terminology, including replacing the word “drug” with “therapeutic product” throughout the Act, thereby giving the Canadian government broad-reaching powers to regulate the sale of all herbs, vitamins, supplements and other items. With this single language change, anything that is “therapeutic” automatically falls under the Food and Drug Act. This would include bottled water, blueberries, dandelion greens and essentially all plant-derived substances.

The Act also changes the definition of the word “sell” to include anyone who gives such therapeutic products to someone else. So a mother giving an herb to her child, under the proposed new language, could be arrested for engaging in the sale of unregulated, unapproved “therapeutic substances.” Learn about more of these freedom-squashing changes to the law at the Stop51.com website: http://www.stopc51.com

New enforcement powers allow Canadian government to seize your home or business

At the same time that C-51 is outlawing herbs, supplements and vitamins, it would grant alarming new “enforcement” powers to the thugs enforcement agents who claim to be “protecting” the public from dangerous unapproved “therapeutic agents” like, say, dandelion greens. As explained on the http://www.Educate-Yourself.orgwebsite ((http://educate-yourself.org/cn/canadian…), the C-51 law would allow the Canadian government’s thugsenforcement agents to:

• Raid your home or business without a warrant
• Seize your bank accounts
• Levy fines up to $5 million and a jail terms up to 2 years for merely selling an herb
• Confiscate your property, then charge you storage fees for the expense involved in storing all the products they stole from you

C-51 would even criminalize the simple drying of herbs in your kitchen to be used in an herbal product, by the way. That would now be categorized as a “controlled activity,” and anyone caught engaging in such “controlled activities” would be arrested, fined and potentially jailed. Other “controlled activities” include labeling bottles, harvesting plants on a farm, collecting herbs from your back yard, or even testing herbal products on yourself! (Yes, virtually every activity involving herbs or supplements would be criminalized…)

There’s more, too. C-51 is the Canadian government’s “final solution” for the health products industry. It’s a desperate effort to destroy this industry that’s threatening the profits and viability of conventional medicine.

Natural medicine works so well—and is becoming so widely used—that both the Canadian and American governments have decided to “nuke” the industries by passing new laws that effectively criminalize anyone selling such products. They simply cannot tolerate allowing consumers to have continued access to natural products. To do so will ultimately spell the destruction of Big Pharma and the outdated, corrupt and criminally-operated pharmaceutical industry that these criminally-operated governments are trying to protect.
Join the rally to protest C-51

On May 9th, 2008, Canadian citizens will be gathering at the Calgary Federal Court to protest C-51 and help protect their access to natural health products. Call 1-888-878-3467 to learn more, or visit the action page of Health Canada Exposed at: www.stopc51.com
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Centre for Research on Globalization.

Source: www.globalresearch.com

I am totally and utterly disgusted. We have the option of buying natural products; nobody forces us to do it. And we do buy them because they are better than the drugs that have a gazillion of side effects which makes you think twice if you are going to take them or not.
Comm’on, you turn on the TV and at least one commercial is about drugs. If you pay a little bit of attention, by the end of the peachy-nice-living-on-could-nine presentation, the voice will tell something like:”the side effects include” and a long list follows. Then you put in balance two options: deal with your illness or face the risk of dying of hemorrhage or other nasty side effects of the drug? I am not absurd, there are situations when you have to take drugs and not follow the natural way. But for minor cases, why would the government take our right to chose? Just because the big pharmaceutical companies want more money?

I remember when a few years ago, some guys started the ‘organic’ business. The hell broke loose, with the food giants screaming bloody murder and the small ‘organic’ entrepreneurs forced to fight the bureaucratic system trying to sell their products.
Now it gained popularity because it is better for your health to eat meat without hormones and antibiotics, or vegetables not treated with pesticides.

Shame for the Canadian government for even taking into account the proposal dubbed Bill C-51 and damn you for getting your conscience bought with dirty money. Would you go so far as to ‘criminalize’ parents for giving natural products?
What about criminalizing parents who sexually abuse their kids??!!
What’s wrong with this freaking society??!!!!!!!

Monks disrupt Tibet media visit

This morning, while driving to work, I heard a piece of news about Tibet along with a cry and Tibetan words.
A monk was crying! According to the news, Buddhist monks in the Tibetan capital protested against Chinese rule during an official conference for foreign journalists put on by the Chinese authorities.

“Foreign journalists were expelled from Tibet at the height of the unrest, but on Wednesday China allowed a group of about two dozen reporters into Lhasa for a three-day escorted visit.
The BBC’s request to be included in the group was turned down.

The monks’ protest came as they toured the Jokhang Temple – one of Tibet’s holiest shrines.

One monk shouted “Tibet is not free, Tibet is not free” before he started to cry, an AP journalist at the scene, Charles Hutzler, reported.

Another monk said the rioting on 14 March “had nothing to do with the Dalai Lama”.

The monks said they had not been allowed to leave the temple since the rioting.

Government handlers told the journalists to leave and tried to pull them away, the reporter said.

Later, the area around the Jokhang Temple was sealed off by riot police.

The protests began on 10 March and developed into violent rioting in Lhasa before spreading to neighbouring regions.

China says 19 people were killed by rioters. The Tibetan government-in-exile says about 140 people have been killed in a crackdown by Chinese security forces.

‘Divided city’

The group of journalists has also visited a medical clinic and a clothing store, where Chinese authorities say five girls were trapped and burned to death, AP’s reporter added.
A reporter for the London-based Financial Times, meanwhile, said that the Tibetan quarter of the city resembled a war zone, with burnt-out buildings, shuttered businesses and groups of soldiers on every corner.

“The smell of burning buildings still hangs in the air nearly two weeks after violent rioting swept through the old Tibetan quarter of Lhasa,” the Financial Times’s Geoff Dyer reported.

The rioting appeared to have been more prolonged and destructive than previously thought, he wrote.

Charles Hutzler described to the BBC a city divided.

“In sort of the more recently built up, very Chinese part of Lhasa, life seems to be going on fairly normally,” he said.

“But in the older, Tibetan section of the town and the blocks leading to it we could see the remains of burnt-out buildings.”

The reporters said there was a heavy security presence in the Tibetan quarter, with squads of police and soldiers on every corner.

But in the new town, they described life as returning to a semblance of normality, with shops and restaurants busy with customers.

Treading carefully

On Wednesday, US President George Bush had “encouraged the Chinese government to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s representatives,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

But the fact that it has taken Mr Bush this long to talk directly to Mr Hu shows that the US is treading carefully in its response, says the BBC’s Jonathan Beale in Washington.

Despite calls from rights groups for an Olympic boycott, the White House has already made it clear that Mr Bush will still attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games”

Story from BBC NEWS http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/asia-pacific/7315895.stm

“Protesting monks dash China’s show of peace in Tibet

By Charles Hutzler
A GROUP of monks overturned a carefully orchestrated visit for foreign reporters to Tibet’s capital, an embarrassment for the Chinese government struggling yesterday to prove Lhasa was calm.
The government had arranged the trip to show how peaceful Lhasa was after riots shattered China’s plans for a peaceful run-up to the Beijing Olympic Games in August.

But the outburst by a group of 30 monks in red robes came as the journalists were being shown around the Jokhang Temple – one of Tibet’s holiest shrines – by Chinese government handlers.

“Tibet is not free! Tibet is not free!” yelled one young Buddhist monk, who then started to cry.

They insisted their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, had nothing to do with the anti-government riots in Lhasa, where buildings were burned and looted and ethnic Han Chinese were attacked.

Officials shouted for the journalists to leave and tried to pull them away.

“They want us to curse the Dalai Lama, and that is not right,” one monk said during the 15-minute outburst.

“This had nothing to do with the Dalai Lama,” said another, referring to the 14 March riots in which the Chinese government says 22 people died, while Tibetan exiles claim the death toll is 140.

Reporters were earlier taken to a Tibet medical clinic that was attacked by protesters and were shown a clothes shop where five girls had been trapped and burned to death.

The monks, who first spoke Tibetan and then switched to Mandarin so journalists could understand them, said they knew they would probably be arrested.

Troops who had been guarding the temple were removed the night before the visit, they said. One monk said authorities planted other monks in the monastery to talk to the journalists, calling them “not true believers but… Communist Party members.”

“They are all officials, they (the government] arranged for them to come in. And we aren’t allowed to go out because they say we could destroy things, but we never did anything,” another monk said.

Later the Chinese-installed vice-governor of Tibet said the Jokhang monks were confined to the monastery because some had joined protesters. He promised they would not be punished for their outburst.”
Source: http://news.scotsman.com/world/Protesting-monks-dash-China39s-show.3923898.jp

Tibet – eyewitness report: Monk ‘kicked to floor’

Before I get to the article I want to present, I must say that I was very proud when our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, took the right stance and called on China to “fully respect human rights and peaceful protest” and “show restraint” in Tibet. Harper released his statement through Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre at a pro-Tibet rally on Parliament Hill on Thursday. Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier later called on China to begin talks with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
The response from the Chinese ambassador Lu Shumin- a pretty nasty one I must say, and I am still surprised he was not recalled back, wait a minute, I meant kicked out of Canada- was basically ‘Canada, butt out’. To Mr. Lu Shumin with love: KISS OUR ASSES!
Ambassador Lu Shumin said recent remarks from Canadian officials fail to recognize that China is attempting to restore safety and security in the face of “violent crimes” by separatists in the Tibetan capital city of Lhasa.
“These irresponsible remarks will not do any good to the image of Canada for a champion of law and order,” Lu said Friday.
He also said that any mischaracterization of the Chinese government response to the Tibetan situation “would be inappropriate and be considered as interference with China’s internal affairs. It would also send wrong messages to Tibetan separatist forces and encourage their separatist activities and violence,” Lu warned.

Harper pissed off the Chinese when he received the Dalai Lama in his office on Parliament Hill, a move China considered offensive and when he has vowed he won’t let economic interests dictate Canada’s policies on human rights in China. Some observers believe China’s refusal to designate Canada a government-approved tourist destination is a consequence of the flagging relations
Kudos to our Prime Minister.

Going back to Tibet, it’s difficult to find information on what’s happening over there, therefore, every time I find something, I feel that I have to record the information before it’s lost, maybe forever.
Following is an eyewitness account on the monk’s treatment by the Chinese army and security forces, as presented by BBC.
Read this, and then go back to the paragraph regarding Chinese position on ‘mischaracterization’ of Chinese intervention and then draw your own conclusions.

Eyewitness: Monk ‘kicked to floor’
With tension rising in Tibet following a series of anti-China protests, the BBC spoke to an eyewitness who saw police on Wednesday beating monks at one of three monasteries which have been sealed. He wishes to be identified only as John.

“We knew something was happening because there were more road checks as we got into Lhasa.
Cars were being stopped and police were writing the licence plates down. We tried to stop at a shrine outside Lhasa but were told to keep moving.
Then we heard around Wednesday lunchtime that Drepung monastery was closed. We didn’t know why.
That afternoon we went to Sera monastery to see the debating. It’s famous – the monks debate points of philosophy and people come to see it.
Just when it was about to start, around three o’clock, we started to hear rounds of applause coming out of a courtyard in the heart of the temple.
They were grabbing monks, kicking and beating them
We thought the debate was starting but then suddenly the clapping reached a crescendo – kind of a hooting.
Then the gate of the debating compound opened and this stream of maroon humanity poured out, several hundred monks. It was impossible to count but I think there were at least 300.
We thought it was part of the tradition but when you looked at the expression on their faces, it was a very serious business. They were pumping their hands in the air as they ran out of the temple.

Plain-clothes police
The minute that happened we saw the police – two or three who were inside the compound – suddenly speaking into their radios.
They started going after the monks, and plain-clothes police – I don’t know this for sure but that’s what I think they were – started to emerged from nowhere.
There were four or five in uniform but another 10 or 15 in regular clothing. They were grabbing monks, kicking and beating them.
One monk was kicked in the stomach right in front of us and then beaten on the ground.
The monks were not attacking the soldiers, there was no melee. They were heading out in a stream, it was a very clear path, and the police were attacking them at the sides. It was gratuitous violence.
The Tibetan lay-people started rushing to get out of the temple. Tibetan grandmothers were grabbing young kids and getting them out.
We were left behind when the monks left the temple. About 20 minutes later we felt as if we could leave.

Riot police
Outside the monastery the road curved to the left and to the right. We were directed left – but when we looked to the right there was a line of riot police with batons and helmets blocking off the street.
The monks were sitting in neat rows on the ground, surrounded by a phalanx of police. It was a very clear show of force – there were maybe as many as 300 riot police and regular police there.
It could have been civil disobedience, but it looked like the monks had been put there. They weren’t moving.
As we turned left, we saw troop carriers with camouflaged army regulars arriving – those green trucks with soldiers in the back on benches. We saw guns, large guns that looked like automatic weapons.
There were two or three of those trucks as well as others – several units of public order personnel swarming the situation.
As we left, all the roads around the monastery were blocked by police. There was no access.
At the time, all the phones were dead – we were trying to call the hotel but none of the cell phones were working. But within an hour the phone service was back on.
It seemed as if within half an hour the thing had been totally brought under control.
Back in Lhasa, it was eerily normal. There were police around but not really a muscular presence. It seemed to have been a massive localised show of force.
We realised that if we had gone to Sera monastery an hour earlier or an hour later, no-one would have known what these monks had done.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/03/14 12:15:32 GMT

Tibetan monks: A controlled life

My heart aches every time I read about how the Chinese are dealing with the Tibet struggle for autonomy, a real autonomy.
I believe that again and again we witness the same old story: the ‘righteous’ big powers doing nothing when their interest is not in play. By ‘big powers’ I mean the USA, the UK, Germany, France… where are they now? All of them were so fast to recognize Kosovo’s independence, but no one seems to have any muscle to flex when it’s time to really do something righteous.
They are disgusting.

Following is an article as found on BBC’s site, and kuddos to BBC for covering the story of Tibet unrests.

Tibetan monks: A controlled life
China’s crackdown on monk-led rallies in Lhasa is part of a long history of state control of monasteries, argues Peter Firstbrook, producer of BBC Four series A Year in Tibet.

Buddhist monasteries are among the few institutions in China which have the potential to organise resistance and opposition to the government – so the Chinese Communist Party constantly worries about them.

Are some monks secret supporters of the Dalai Lama? Could they be working towards Tibetan independence? Beijing’s fear is so great that being found with just a photograph of the Dalai Lama in your possession could land you in jail.

Government regulation of the monasteries started almost as soon as the People’s Liberation Army marched into Tibet in 1950.

The recent protests mark the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising of 1959 when anti-Chinese and anti-communist demonstrations erupted on the streets of Lhasa, and were put down by force.

Lhasa’s three major monasteries – the Sera, Drepung and Ganden, were seriously damaged by shelling. The Dalai Lama was forced to flee into exile and the Tibetan government-in-exile estimates that 86,000 Tibetans died.

I visit these temples once or twice a month. I tell them what to do and what not to do. They all listen and say nothing
Communist Party official

Less than a decade later, Mao’s Cultural Revolution wrought havoc in the region and the Red Guards destroyed more than 6,000 monasteries and convents – just a handful survived.

Along with the buildings, hundreds and thousands of priceless and irreplaceable statues, tapestries and manuscripts were destroyed.

“At that time all the monasteries were destroyed. The whole country was changing during the revolution. The wave of change was unstoppable,” says Dondrup, a 77-year-old monk at the Pel Kor Monastery in Gyantse.

‘False’ lama

Further evidence of Chinese control over Tibetan Buddhism came in 1995, with the naming of the new reincarnation of the Panchen Lama – second only to the Dalai Lama in terms of spiritual seniority in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama selected six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima – but within days the young boy and his immediate family disappeared, apparently abducted.

Although we can’t have that many lamas now, we can still absorb new lamas under the current regulations and policies
Pel Kor monastery

The Chinese government soon announced they had found the real Panchen Lama, a six-year old boy named Gyaltsen Norbu.

Gyaltsen Norbu just happened to be the son of two Tibetan Communist Party workers and he was soon whisked off to Beijing, where he continues to live today. Only occasionally does he appear in public, in carefully stage-managed events.

Most monks regard him as a “false” lama, though he is venerated by ordinary Tibetans.

We filmed his visit to the Pel Kor Monastery in Gyantse in September 2006. It was clear the authorities were worried about demonstrations as there were hundreds of police and army personnel on the streets and the monks had to go through a security check to get into their own monastery.

Since the 1980s the Chinese government has begun to rebuild some of the monasteries and they has also granted greater religious freedom – although it is still limited.

But almost every aspect of the lives of Buddhist monks and nuns is monitored and controlled by the government.

Phone technology

Every monastery and nunnery in Tibet is visited at least once every few weeks by a Communist Party official, who checks that the government rules and regulation are being correctly applied.

Butri, a Tibetan Communist Party cadre, explains: “I visit these temples once or twice a month. I tell them what to do and what not to do. They all listen and say nothing.”

The government is also very careful whom it allows to become a monk. All novices have to go through a detailed vetting procedure which takes years to complete. Even their families are checked for any subversive background.

The Chinese government also restricts the number of monks and nuns. In fact, monasteries can no longer perform many of their rituals correctly because of a shortage of monks.

Tsultrim, the deputy head lama of the Pel Kor monastery in Gyantse, said at its peak the monastery was home to 1,500 monks. Today the Chinese government restricts numbers to no more than 80.

“Although we can’t have that many lamas now, we can still absorb new lamas under the current regulations and policies,” he said.

“Of course, we need to check up on them, to see if they’re the right people for us.”

The recent conflict on the streets of Lhasa mirrors events almost 20 years ago – the last time there were major protests – when frustration among the monks and ordinary Tibetans finally reached boiling point in 1989.

But today, there is one important difference: technology. Practically every Tibetan monk I have met has a mobile phone. They even have special pockets sewn inside their robes to carry them.

In the past it has been notoriously difficult to communicate across the vast expanse of Tibet. Today, everybody is just a text away.

A Year In Tibet will be broadcast on BBC Four on Thursday, 20 March, 2008 at 2100 GMT.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/03/20 20:34:59 GMT