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Last Updated:  Saturday, 8 March, 2003, 04:56 GMT
Refugee from a forgotten land
By Chris Summers
BBC News Online

Campaigners marked Free Tibet Day on Saturday by marching through London and demanding the UK Prime Minister Tony Blair raise the issue of Tibet when he visits China next month. BBC News Online talked to a Tibetan political refugee.

A previous Free Tibet demonstration in London
Around 2,000 protestors are due
Pafang was a boy monk, aged 13, when he decided to flee his home in the Amdo region of northern Tibet and trek across the Himalayas to India.

"In Tibet we had never heard of the Free Tibet Campaign or even of the Dalai Lama. Everything we learned at school was what the Chinese wanted us to believe," he told BBC News Online.

Pafang, now 26, is one of 250 Tibetan refugees who live in Britain and was among around 2,000 protesters taking part in Saturday's demonstration in London.

Tibet timeline
1850-1913: Britain, China and Russia vie for control of Tibet
1913: Tibet takes advantage of revolution in Peking to declare independence
Oct 1950: 40,000 Chinese troops invade Tibet and annex it
1959: National uprising against Chinese rule. At least 100,000 Tibetans killed and another 100,000 flee into exile in India with Dalai Lama
1966: Many Buddhist monasteries destroyed and monks sent to labour camps during Cultural Revolution
1989: Dalai Lama, a devotee of non-violent resistance, receives Nobel Peace Prize. He accepts Tibetan independence is not achievable but calls for genuine autonomy.
1995: Dalai Lama selects six-year-old boy as 11th Panchen Lama. China rejects his choice and enthrones its own Panchen.

The demo, organised by the Free Tibet Campaign, aims to bring pressure on Mr Blair to raise the issue of Tibet when he visits China next month to meet the country's new leader Hu Jintao.

Tibet has been part of the People's Republic of China since 1950 when Mao sent troops in to end the country's brief period of independence.

In 1965 a Tibet Autonomous Region was created but parts of historical Tibet, such as the Amdo region where Pafang lived, were transferred to neighbouring provinces.

Pafang said he grew up forbidden to speak the Tibetan language.

He became a Buddhist monk at the age of 12 but he said he soon came to resent the restrictions on his religion.

"I wanted to study Tibetan culture and Buddhism but the monasteries in Tibet are controlled by the government and you have to pass exams in communist political studies to be allowed to stay there. If you don't pass you have to leave," said Pafang.

The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama preaches passive resistance
He said: "One day I went on a pilgrimage to a holy place called Mount Kalish. I met a group of Buddhists who wanted to go to India to meet the Dalai Lama. They said 'Why don't you come?'

"So I packed my belongings and went with them. It took 30 days to cross the Himalayas on foot with our food and clothes on our back."

After time in a refugee centre in Nepal, Pafang went to live in a Buddhist temple near Bangalore in southern India and got to meet the Dalai Lama, who has been in exile since 1959.

The Dalai Lama continues to preach passive resistance to Chinese rule, something which Pafang supports - but he says many Tibetans are becoming disillusioned with the lack of results of this strategy.

Countries like Britain are not interested in helping us because they all do business with China and they don't want to endanger all this trade, which is worth billions
Pafang
Tibetan refugee
In 1988 the Dalai Lama accepted independence was not achievable and instead demanded greater autonomy for Tibet.

Pafang said the number of Chinese soldiers in Tibet outnumbered the ethnic Tibetan population. He said Beijing had also swamped the region with Han Chinese settlers.

But Lu Wenxiang, the press counsellor at the Chinese Embassy in London, said: "Historically, since at least the 5th Century Tibet has been part of China and it is not true to say we invaded or annexed it.

"The People's Liberation Army was invited into Tibet as part of the 17-Point Agreement which was signed by the local government, headed by Dalai Lama."

He said: "The Dalai Lama is free to return to Tibet but he must publicly declare that Tibet is an inalienable part of China and recognise the supremacy of the central government. He must stop all activities aimed at splitting up the country."

Pafang returned to Tibet in 1993 and spent a year there hiding from the authorities before fleeing with his younger brother Tenzin.

Historically, since at least the 5th Century Tibet has been part of China and it is not true to say we invaded or annexed it
Lu Wenxiang
Chinese Embassy spokesman
He wrote dozens of letters to his parents, and two other brothers who remain in Tibet, but all have been intercepted.

Pafang came to Britain two years ago with Tenzin and claimed political asylum in the UK.

Last year he managed to speak to his parents on the telephone for the first time in nearly a decade.

"It was quite emotional. I spent hours on the phone to them but we didn't talk about politics because I didn't want to get them in trouble. We just talked about the family," he said.

Pafang, who now works in a customer service centre, dreams that one day he can return to a free Tibet but he says: "Countries like Britain are not interested in helping us because they all do business with China and they don't want to endanger all this trade, which is worth billions"

We believe there will only be such a settlement on the basis of negotiations and taking into account the wishes of the Tibetan people
British Foreign Office spokesman
A British Foreign Office spokesman said: "Tibet has never been internationally recognised as an independent state and no state recognises Tibet as independent.

"It's not for us to prescribe the nature of a lasting political settlement in Tibet but we believe there will only be such a settlement on the basis of negotiations and taking into account the wishes of the Tibetan people."

  • Names have been changed to protect those involved.




  • SEE ALSO:
    Tibetans struggle with Chinese changes
    06 Dec 02 |  Asia-Pacific
    Tibet sentences condemned
    05 Dec 02 |  Asia-Pacific
    Tibet envoy hints at China thaw
    30 Sep 02 |  Asia-Pacific
    'Chinese' Panchen Lama appears on TV
    10 Feb 02 |  Asia-Pacific
    Tibetan culture finds digital saviour
    24 Sep 02 |  Technology
    Miss Tibet off to controversial start
    10 Oct 02 |  Asia-Pacific


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