China closes troubled Tibet to foreigners


Chinese authorities have closed the troubled Tibetan region to foreign tourists, travel agents said Monday, ahead of the third anniversary of violent anti-government riots there.

“The tourism bureau will not give permission to foreigners to come to Tibet in March,” an employee at the Xizang Tourist General Company in the region’s capital Lhasa told AFP by phone.

“They can’t come to Tibet in March and as far as April is concerned we are still awaiting notification (of any rule changes).”

Other agencies also told AFP that travellers from overseas would not be allowed into Tibet in March, while one firm said that permission for foreign tourists to come to the region would take at least 10 days to be approved.

China routinely limits foreign travel to Tibet, requiring overseas tourists to obtain special permits — in addition to Chinese visas — and also travel in tour groups.

In the wake of anti-government riots in Lhasa in March 2008, which left parts of the city burned and looted, foreign tourists were banned from travelling to the Himalayan region for more than a year.

China has increased security in Tibet since the 2008 demonstrations descended into violence and spread to neighbouring areas with significant Tibetan populations.

A report released by Human Rights Watch last year said Chinese security forces brutally beat and even shot dead some protesters during the unrest, and tortured many in the subsequent crackdown.

The New York-based organisation said it had based its findings on interviews with more than 200 Tibetan refugees and other witnesses between March 2008 and April 2010, as well as official information.

Chinese authorities deny that such violence has been used on the region’s population.

China has ruled Tibet since 1951, a year after sending in troops to “liberate” the region.

Tibet’s Communist Party chief Zhang Qingli said Sunday the region was still facing “very grave challenges” in the fight against separatism, the official Xinhua news agency said.