China closes Tibet to foreign tourists
China has closed Tibet to foreign tourists ahead of next month's highly sensitive 50th anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule, tour agencies and other industry people told AFP yesterday.
The reported ban comes amid deep tensions in the Himalayan region, with a reported increase in security forces and a call by the Dalai Lama for a boycott of Tibetan New Year celebrations on Wednesday, in protest against Chinese rule.
"Authorities asked tour agents to stop organising foreigners coming to Tibet for tour trips until April 1," an employee at a government-run travel agency in Lhasa, who could not be named for fear of reprisals, told AFP.
He said the city's tourism bureau had decided this at a meeting in mid-February, although it was unclear when exactly the orders were given.
A hotel in the Tibetan capital and three travel agencies in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu that normally organise trips into Tibet also confirmed the ban on foreigners.
"Foreigners cannot go there in March because we have stopped giving out permits," an employee at the Chengdu Overseas Tourism Company, another government-run travel agency, told AFP.
A worker at a youth hostel in downtown Lhasa, who also could not be named, confirmed the information.
"We also have two foreigners here who have been told they have to leave Lhasa," he told AFP.
This is the second time in less than a year that the Himalayan region has been sealed off to foreign tourists.
The Chinese government banned travellers from going to Tibet immediately after riots erupted in Lhasa on March 14 after four days of peaceful protests to mark the 49th anniversary of the failed uprising against Chinese rule.
The uprising, which took place on March 10, 1959, led to Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fleeing his homeland.
China has ruled Tibet since 1951, a year after sending in troops to "liberate" the region.
Tibet's government-in-exile says a government crackdown following last year's unrest left 200 Tibetans dead.
China denies this, but has reported that police killed one "insurgent", and blamed "rioters" for 21 deaths.
Foreign tourists were allowed back in only at the end of June, but only as part of an official tour group and after applying for a permit.
China Tuesday said foreigners were still able to apply to go to Tibet through "normal channels," but failed to mention whether applications would be accepted.
"The policy of an open Tibet will not change," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told reporters.
"As for foreign people, including foreign journalists travelling to Tibet, they can apply through normal channels."
Calls made to the government of Tibet went unanswered.
Authorities have vowed to ensure there is no unrest next month.
Leaders in Tibet last week said they would "firmly crush the savage aggression of the Dalai clique, defeat separatism, and wage people's war to maintain stability," the state-run Tibet Daily reported.
The China Tibet News also reported in January that police had investigated over 8,400 people and detained 81 during a week-long "Strike Hard" campaign in Lhasa.