01/12/2009, 00.00
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London "dialogues" on rights, Beijing arrests Tibetans

The traditional UK-China Human Rights Dialogue begins today. But pro-Tibet groups are criticizing London, which seems more interested in economic relations. Meanwhile, the protests by Tibetans and repression against them continue.

Dharamsala (AsiaNews) - The periodic UK-China Human Rights Dialogue began today in London. But pro-Tibet groups accuse London of dedicating little attention to respect for rights. Meanwhile, protests continue among Tibetans, together with Chinese repression.

These meetings, among parliamentarians and officials of the foreign affairs and justice ministries of the two countries, began in 1997. Since then, the situation of human rights in China, and especially in Tibet, has seriously worsened. London says that "the protection and promotion of human rights is one of the priorities of British foreign policy." It is the first encounter after the harsh Chinese repression in March of 2008 in Tibet, and there is anticipation to see if there will be concrete results, also considering that the repression continues with arrests and prison sentences.

But groups like Free Tibet observe that if London really wanted to improve respect for rights, it could set up an independent observer to monitor the situation, rather than limiting itself to speaking about the matter on these occasions. These groups accuse the British government of giving more emphasis to the expansion of trade ties and to Chinese investment in Great Britain.

Stephanie Bridgen, director of FT, observes that "the British public was understandably appalled by the scale and brutality of China’s  human rights violations in Tibet last spring. It is unacceptable so soon after such abuses for the British government to continue to  point to the dialogue alone as proof that it is using its relationship with China to act seriously on human rights. To convince the British public that its policy towards China’s human rights abuses is more than a tick in the box exercise, the British government must come up with a more transparent policy which rigorously holds China to account for the sort of abuses we have seen in Tibet in the last year."

The Tibetan government in exile claims that more than 200 died in the protests in March of 2008, while Beijing says that 22 died, 21 of them Chinese killed by the demonstrators.

While London "dialogues," local sources report that sporadic protests continue among the Tibetans. Last January 5 in Kardze, Ngawang Sonam, a Tibetan of the village of Horpo (Kardze or Ganzi county in Sichuan) shouted slogans for the independence of Tibet and distributed flyers with protests and prayers. Radio Free Asia reports that after about three minutes, the police surrounded him, beat him, and took him away.

The same thing happened to a woman named Konchok, who on December 29 in Kardze shouted slogans for a free Tibet, and threw flyers. She was taken away by the police, and her current whereabouts are unknown.

March 10, 2009 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan revolt for for independence, which was violently repressed. In order to avoid dangerous commemorations, last January 10 Pang Boyong, vice secretary of the permanent committee of the communist party of Tibet, revealed the intention of instituting a day of celebration aimed at "reminding all the Chinese people, including Tibetans, of the landmark democratic reform initiated 50 years ago." "Since then, millions of slaves under the feudal serfdom became masters of their own."

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