The recent riots in Tibet, in which approximately 16 people were killed, have renewed the commitment of Tibetans in the United States to the independence of their mountain homeland. Tibetan organizations held nationwide demonstrations March 10 marking the 29th anniversary of the national uprisings against the Chinese occupation in 1959. Tibetans and their American supporters called on the United Nations and the Reagan administration to denounce the 37-year Chinese occupation of Tibet.
Shouting ``China out of Tibet,'' 200 protesters marched from the UN to the Chinese Consulate carrying banners and the bright, colorful flag of Tibet, with two snow lions holding up the sun.
Smaller protests were organized by Tibetan communities in Boston; Miami; Los Angeles; Washington; Santa Fe, N.M.; Bloomington, Ind.; and other US cities.
China, which has claimed Tibet for centuries, occupied the country in 1950. After Chinese authorities attempted to arrest the Dalai Lama, Tibet's religious and political leader, thousands of Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, fled over the border to India. More than 100,000 people, many of them Buddhist monks, have fled since that first uprising.
Bruce McCullen, director of Freedom House, a US human rights organization, claimed that more than 1 million Tibetans have died as a result of Chinese violence. He also said that more than 6,000 monasteries and temples have been destroyed, and 5,000 people have been arrested during the last year.
``Violence is a part of any military occupation. What is going on in Tibet is an insult to the entire human family,'' said Blake Kerr, a doctor who spent last year in Lhasa. While there he cared for monks wounded in last October's riots.
Hundreds of Americans attracted to Tibetan Buddhism and Tibet's culture support the cause of Tibetan independence. Peter Gold, author of three books on Tibet, said he became involved in the Tibetan cause by meeting exiles in India. He said the simple, peaceful culture of the Tibetans should be saved so the rest of humanity can learn from its practices.
``Tibet's fate is humankind's destiny,'' Mr. Gold said. ``If there is no place for a culture like Tibet's in the world, it's a harbinger for all of humankind.''
The Dalai Lama, in a statement, praised ``the heroism of our brothers and sisters in Tibet, nonviolently opposing a large and brutal force.... It is a living testament to the oneness of our Buddhist heritage and our national spirit.''
The Dalai Lama's letter also restated his five-point peace plan, which was issued in November before the House Select Committee on Human Rights:
Demilitarization of Tibet. The Chinese and Indian governments maintain forces on both sides of the border, and there have been clashes.
Cessation of human rights violations.
Halting deforestation of hill land for agriculture.
Denuclearization of Tibet, which the Chinese have used for nuclear testing.
Make Tibet independent so it can serve as a buffer state between China and India.
A delegation of the China Captive Nations Committee, an anticommunist group founded in 1983, joined the Tibetans in their protest.
``The present Communist government has destroyed the peaceful coexistence which we have had between Chinese and Tibetans for thousands of years,'' said Steven Wok, the group's assistant executive director.
About 910 Tibetans live in the US and Canada, according to the Office of Tibet, which officially represents the Dalai Lama in North America and has been the lobbying voice of Tibetans over the last 29 years.
The House of Representatives passed a bill last June denouncing the Chinese government. In the aftermath of last fall's riots, the Senate followed suit on Oct. 6.
``Tibetans have become a minority in their own country,'' said Tinley Nyandak, press officer for the Office of Tibet. ``There is fear that Tibetan culture and identity will pass into history.''
Phintso Thonden, vice-president of a Park Avenue export company, said this is a critical time in Tibetan history because the recent violence has put global pressure on the Chinese to negotiate with Tibetan leaders.