Seeking a road to Tibetan independence Marchers on trek to United Nations pass through Howard

March 17, 1996|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,SUN STAFF

For a group of Tibetan nationalists, the road to Tibet's independence ran through Route 97 in Cooksville and Glenwood late last week.

In one leg of a trek from Washington, D.C., to the United Nations, marchers including the eldest brother of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader carried placards and flags through western Howard County Wednesday and Friday to protest human rights conditions in Tibet under Chinese rule.

"Basically, what we're trying to do is to protest the illegal occupation of Tibet," said Thupten Jigme Norbu, 74, the Dalai Lama's brother.

What was billed as "The March for Tibet's Independence" began March 10 outside the Chinese Embassy in Washington, on the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan rebellion against the Chinese.

The 15 marchers including some Americans and a smaller group seeking independence for another ethnic region of China estimate they will walk 300 miles over the next month and a half, resting at the homes of host families on their way to the United Nations on April 25.

"What they want to do is walk through small-town America from Washington to New York to interact with people," said John Ackerly, director of the International Campaign for Tibet in Washington.

Independent for centuries, Tibet home to 2.25 million people has been under Chinese control since the 1951 "peaceful liberation" by the Chinese army. Tibetans viewed the Chinese action as an invasion and for three days in March 1959 revolted unsuccessfully.

At that time, the Dalai Lama Tibet's spiritual leader and until then its ruler fled to India, where he has remained. Over the years, Tibetans and others have accused China of human rights abuses in maintaining its control over Tibet.

Despite Tibetan assertions of independence, China considers Tibet to be a historical part of its territory.

"China is a unified country with multi-ethnic groups, and Tibet has been an inalienable part of China since ancient time," the Chinese Embassy said a statement released Thursday.

The statement acknowledged attempts by "a few to separate Tibet from China" but went on to say, "These attempts will not succeed."

It was against that political backdrop that the marchers trekked along Route 97 in western Howard Wednesday and Friday, drawing attention from motorists who honked their horns or waved.

The Dalai Lama's brother who is recognized as the reincarnation of a high lama and has the title of Taktser Rinpoche fled to the United States in 1951 after a Tibetan ruler signed a 17-point agreement with China that led to the "peaceful liberation" of Tibet.

Now retired as a professor of Tibetan history at Indiana University, he is undaunted by the long march, despite the fact that he has a pacemaker.

"They call me the bionic man," he said, laughing as he gripped his cane.

The group also included Palden Gyaltso, 65, a Tibetan monk who, through an interpreter, said he was imprisoned at Depchi Prison in Tibet by Chinese authorities from 1959 to 1992 for "political activities" and tortured.

"I wondered how I survived," said the monk, who lives in India and said he was freed through the help of an Italian human rights group. "I feel it's because I'm a Tibetan Buddhist monk."

Also marching were five members of an ethnic group known as Uyghurs, from East Turkistan, an autonomous region of China known officially as Xinjiang. They are Muslim Turks who live north of Tibet under China's rule. They joined the march two weeks ago to press for independence and to protest alleged human rights violations.

"We'd like to reach our goal in peace; that's why we [joined] this march," said Anwar Yusuf, 33, who lives in Falls Church, Va.

The marchers made quite an impression last week in western Howard County.

"I thought it was kind of inspiring," said an employee at High's of Baltimore in Glenwood. "They came into the store and bought things like spring water, iced tea and sandwiches all kinds.

"But no junk food they were very healthy eaters."

Pub Date: 3/17/96

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