Talk of violence resonates among some Tibetan exiles

KATMANDU, Nepal — Tibetan exiles in Nepal have been working hard to foment opposition to Chinese rule of their homeland, adding a dose of agitation to the impatience that many feel about their seemingly futile efforts to free their country from an ever-stronger China.

Their planning, until now, had focused on the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, which they'd hoped to use to grab attention away from China for their own cause.

"We've got to take advantage of this spotlight. We should raise our voice," said Tsetan, a 33-year-old Tibetan exile journalist who goes by just a single name.

But with rioting in Tibet's capital Friday, where protesters burned cars and beat ethnic Chinese and police locked down three monasteries after protests by hundreds of monks Monday and Tuesday, their planning is likely to take on greater urgency.

On Thursday, police in northern India scrambled to arrest 100 or so Tibetan activists and halt their five-month march to the Tibetan border. Many resisted arrest, shouting "Free Tibet!" The group intended to enter Tibet without permission just as the Olympic Games get under way in August.

"A lot of youngsters who are born in exile are frustrated in the sense that they want something to happen in their lifetimes," said Tashi Dhundup, 31, one of the 25,000 or so Tibetans who live in Nepal.

Like nearly all exiles, Dhundup reveres the Dalai Lama, the crimson-clad spiritual leader who fled Tibet in 1959 amid a Chinese crackdown and now leads a government in exile headquartered in Dharamsala, India. Winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, the Dalai Lama trots the globe visiting heads of state, espousing nonviolence while pressing his cause for greater freedom for Tibet.

The nonviolence the Dalai Lama preaches has brought him huge international sympathy but some exiles say it's led to few tangible benefits for them. And the explosion of rock-throwing and fires Friday in Lhasa indicates that their frustrations run deep.

Talks between China and Tibetan envoys have largely gone nowhere since 2000, and government-linked Chinese scholars admit that Beijing is dragging out the talks with envoys of the Dalai Lama, who's 72, confident that he'll die eventually.

That prospect leaves some young Tibetans forlorn, and their mood swings from pessimism to a readiness to use violence for their cause if necessary.

"If we pass the time like this, I think the Tibetan race is finished," said Tashi Dorje, an herbalist. He began to dream aloud of fighting for Tibet, a land with which he identifies culturally, ethnically and religiously but where he's never set foot.

"Everything needs to be organized. It takes a lot of time," Dorje said.

He scoffed at publicity campaigns that others said would bring attention to Tibet.

"If you can blow up a railway track, it means more than a protest," Dorje said.

Such talk in Nepal doesn't go unnoticed by the large Chinese Embassy.

"The Chinese have just one interest in Nepal: that Nepal should not turn into a base for anti-Chinese activity," said Ram Kumar Dahal, a political scientist at Tribhuvan University in Katmandu. "They are watching anti-Chinese activities by these Tibetan revolutionaries."

Many Tibetan Buddhists see the Dalai Lama as a God-king, and look to him to make all decisions. Those who offer mild criticism can face verbal abuse and even beatings from fellow Tibetans. That subservience has largely closed the door on new social and political leaders emerging.

"Our community has relied on the Dalai Lama too much, and that's why we could not produce many leaders apart from him," Tsetan said.

The way Nepal treats exiles fuels their anger. Unlike immigrant groups that settled in Europe and North America, Tibetan exiles can never assimilate in Nepal, they say.

"We don't have citizenship. We have what's called a refugee identity card," said Tenzin Choephel, a journalist and human rights worker in his early 30s. Choephel said his two children were third-generation refugees with no right to citizenship.

"We really have an identity crisis about who we are as Tibetans," he said.

Tibetans residing in Nepal aren't allowed to open businesses on their own; they must have Nepalese partners. They're barred from most government jobs. Even those close to the Dalai Lama simmer at their status as eternally stateless refugees.

"They have written 'X X X' where my nationality is supposed to go," said Wangchuk Tsering, a former envoy of the Dalai Lama to Nepal, referring to his identity papers. Tsering, who was back in Katmandu for a visit, now lives with his wife in Toronto.

Tsetan said a handful of pugnacious and radical young activists had gained followers, partly because of their bold approach and their desire to poke a stick in China's eye around the Olympics, which run from Aug. 8 to Aug. 24.

Among them is Tenzin Tsundue, who wears a red kerchief around his head and has long black hair flowing down his back. Tsundue was a leader of the march that was halted in India as it headed for the Tibet border. Before his arrest, he scoffed in an e-mail at what might happen to him if he entered Tibet illegally.

"Why should I bother about papers from a Chinese colonial regime (that has) not only occupied Tibet, but also is running a military rule there, making our people in Tibet live in tyranny and brutal suppression day after day," he wrote.

The last time Tsundue entered Tibet, 11 years ago, Chinese guards threw him in jail for months before expelling him.

In his e-mail, he noted that in recent years he has "climbed buildings to shout for freedom, thrown myself at the Chinese Embassy gate in New Delhi, spent months in jails, got beaten up (by) police (and) fought court cases."

Tsetan said that kind of approach appealed to younger Tibetan exiles.

"For many in the young generation, he is a very big inspiration," Tsetan said.

Read more on problems in Tibet by Tim Johnson:

"Dalai Lama, China spar over Tibet in run-up to Olympics,"