China reports two deaths in Tibet clashes

May 01, 2008|By New York Times News Service

BEIJING -- A gun battle in a rural area of northwest China earlier this week left a policeman and Tibetan insurgent dead, according to state-run media.

It was China's first official admission that any Tibetans have died in the anti-government unrest that began in mid-March.

The incident, according to the Xinhua news agency, occurred in Qinghai province after the police tried to arrest a man who they say led a group of herders seeking to incite a riot a week after the March 14 disturbances that shook Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Tibetan exile groups say that more than 200 people, most of them Tibetan, have died in the crackdowns that have racked northwest China in recent weeks. But so far, the Chinese authorities have acknowledged the deaths of only 19 people, most of them members of the Han majority the government has encouraged to migrate to Tibetan areas of the country.

There have been official accounts of clashes in which police officers fire on crowds but without any deaths reported. On March 16, according to official news accounts, the police shot and wounded protesters in the town of Ngawa, in Sichuan province. Exile groups later released photographs of six people they say died in the incident.

Yesterday, the government announced long sentences for 30 Tibetans involved in the rioting in Lhasa, handing out sentences ranging from three years to life in prison for attacking the police, burning vehicles and looting stores. The authorities have promised to try another 52 people in the coming weeks; another 88 people, according to Xinhua, are still being sought.

The White House voiced concern over the sentences, which included life terms for two men and 15 to 20 years for five monks. "We don't think that anyone should break the law, but we also believe in freedom of expression and assembly," said Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman.

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