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Fleeing students bring tales of Tibet repression

DHARAMSALA (Reuters) - Tibetans are regularly beaten up, their homes raided at night and hundreds have gone missing as a brutal Chinese crackdown continues inside Tibet, a group of Tibetan students who escaped into India this week said.

Most Tibetan towns are “swarming” with soldiers who have been arresting people even for mentioning the name of their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 and now lives in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala.

“Soldiers picked up my uncle from his house, dragged him by his hair and kicked him in the face and stomach,” Tsomo, a 30-year-old woman using only one name, told Reuters on Saturday.

“Later we learnt that he died in a lock-up.”

Tsomo was among 20 Tibetans who escaped from Tibet after trekking across freezing Himalayan mountains for weeks, dodging soldiers and checkpoints to reach Dharamsala, the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

India hosts about 150,000 Tibetan exiles, most of whom have arrived after similar journeys over the past few decades.

The students’ group met the Dalai Lama, who explained to them the importance of preserving Tibetan culture and heritage, Tenzin Taklha, the Dalai Lama’s aide told Reuters.

Tibetans met this week in Dharamsala to chart a future course for their movement after eight rounds of official talks on autonomy with Beijing failed to make any headway.

The escaping students say “Chinese atrocities” have increased since the March 14 Tibetan uprising in Lhasa, which China blamed on the Dalai Lama and his “clique”. The riots later spilled over into the rest of Tibet and neighbouring Chinese provinces with Tibetan populations, drawing global attention.

Since then, hundreds of Tibetans have been interrogated and detained while many have disappeared without a trace, says Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet, a global advocacy group for the Tibetan cause.

“We presume many could be dead. Some ... are subjected to hard labour and brutal torture,” Saunders told Reuters.

She said Chinese authorities had “dramatically stepped up” security and about 900 Tibetans had been jailed since the March riots.

China denies torturing or detaining Tibetans without reason, but says strong action will be taken against those trying to protest against Chinese rule or leave Tibet.

“These days we speak in hushed tones about Dharamsala and his holiness in Tibet. The authorities do not allow us to even carry a photograph of our leader,” Gyaltsen, 17, another escapee, said.

“We were not happy in Tibet. Life there is miserable as we have to constantly live in fear of being arrested,” Tsomo said.

Parents encourage children to escape as they do not want them to be indoctrinated in Chinese schools vilifying the Dalai Lama, said Tenzin Losel, an ICT coordinator in India.

“We escaped because we wanted to be with our saviour, the Dalai Lama. Only he can save us and free Tibet,” said Tenzin Ngodrup, another escapee dressed in a “Chupa” or Tibetan gown.