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'China campaign won't win over Tibetans'

China's re-energised "patriotic education" campaign to win over the loyalty of Tibetans is doomed to failure and could even backfire spectacularly, observers and rights groups say.

world Updated: Apr 06, 2008 08:29 IST

China's re-energised "patriotic education" campaign to win over the loyalty of Tibetans is doomed to failure and could even backfire spectacularly, observers and rights groups say.

Tibetan exiles, activists and rights groups warn the government's latest tactic in trying to end nearly a month of resistance against its rule of Tibet will only lead to more resentment and deepen the divide between the two sides.

"To be candid, re-education is nothing but an attempt at brainwashing," said Chukora Tsering Agloe, a researcher with the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, an organisation run by Tibetan exiles in India.

In the state-run Tibet Daily newspaper, China announced on Saturday it would step up "patriotic education" for Tibetans, to run alongside a controversial security crackdown aimed at ending protests that began on March 10.

"Especially reinforce education of young monks about the legal system so that they become patriots who love religion and observe discipline and law," Tibet's deputy Communist Party chief, Hao Peng, was quoted as saying.

Going by previous campaigns, this means forcing Buddhist monks and nuns to denounce their revered spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, while devoting time in their monasteries to Communist Party theories instead of Buddhist scriptures.

"If these monks and nuns refuse to do so, there are very serious repercussions. They can be detained, they are tortured. But most seriously for them, they face expulsion from their monasteries," Tsering Agloe said.

He highlighted the cases of 14 nuns who were jailed in Lhasa for their disloyalty to the state, then had their sentences extended after secretly recording a cassette tape in 1993 of political and religious songs.

"Classical, traditional re-education tactics were used on them," he said of the women, who became known as the "Singing Nuns".

One of the nuns, Ngawang Sangdol, who was 15 years old when she helped make the recording and now lives abroad, spoke to AFP in London recently about the treatment she suffered and saw during six years in prison.

"I have seen many things, like how Chinese torture Tibetans and how they destroy our culture," she said, adding she suffered a dislocated shoulder and had guards stick lit cigarettes into her on her first day in jail.

Tibetan activists said jailing monks and nuns, forcing them to denounce the Dalai Lama and making them study communist theories inevitably led to more protests.

The International Campaign for Tibet and the Free Tibet Campaign said the latest major protest, in Garze county of southwest China's Sichuan province on Thursday, was the direct result of "re-education".

China sent officials and police into the Tongkor monastery last week to conduct re-education, but the monks refused to denounce the Dalai Lama as ordered, according to the two activist groups and other accounts.

After police detained two monks, hundreds of others from the monastery and other Tibetans marched on a government office to demand their release.

China's official Xinhua news agency said police were forced to fire "warning shots" to quell the "rioters". The activist groups said police fired into the crowd, killing at least eight Tibetans and inevitably breeding more resentment.

"The danger is we are going to witness this in other parts of Tibet... a response by Tibetans to the official teams coming into these monasteries and enforcing denunciations of the Dalai Lama," said Kate Saunders, spokeswoman for the International Campaign for Tibet.

Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Human Rights Watch, agreed that the government's tactics would backfire.

"The education campaign only serves to reinforce the anti-Chinese feelings," he said.