Lifting of Martial Law in Tibet May Not Ease Persecution

CHINA'S lifting of martial law Tuesday in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa signals that Communist Party leaders are confident of containing further anti-Chinese unrest in the city. Premier Li Peng signed a State Council order ending 14 months of military rule on Monday, declaring that ``the situation in the city of Lhasa has become stable.''

Chinese leaders apparently were reassured after no major demonstrations broke out in Lhasa in March during the Grand Summons Ceremony, the most important holiday in Tibetan Buddhism and an occasion marked by pro-independence rallies in the past. Martial law was imposed on March 8, 1989, after at least 17 people died in three days of anti-Beijing protests.

China, which has been harshly criticized abroad for human rights violations in Tibet, also seeks to bolster its image in the West, Western diplomats say. This month US President Bush considers whether to continue extending most-favored-nation trade treatment to China before a June 3 deadline.

But the withdrawal of martial law troops is unlikely to bring an easing of the persecution of Tibetans who openly challenge Chinese domination of their homeland, exiled Tibetans and Western diplomats say.

``Continued repression is a condition for lifting martial law,'' said one Western diplomat on condition of anonymity.

In New Delhi, a representative of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled leader, welcomed the decision to end martial law but called it ``more a public relations effort'' by the Chinese regime.

Tashi Wangdi, a Cabinet minister of the Tibetan government in exile, cited a report by the official Radio Lhasa describing a public trial of 43 people on April 28, two days before the announcement martial law would be rescinded.

``This clearly reflects an attempt by the Chinese government to intimidate the Tibetan people,'' Mr. Wangdi said. ``Unless there is basic change, the Tibetan people will continue to express their resentment and opposition.''

In an indication that China's security forces will maintain tight controls over Lhasa, Beijing warned on Monday that Chinese should remain on guard against further demonstrations by pro-independence activists in Tibet.

``Separatists and hostile forces at home and abroad are still conducting separatist activities and sabotage, so the Chinese people should never relax their vigilance,'' the official New China News Agency said. China will not tolerate ``any activities under the cover of religion which endanger the integrity of the country,'' the commentary added.

Demands for religious freedom have played a role in sporadic protests by ethnic minorities in strategic Chinese border regions like Tibet and Xinjiang. In April, Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang staged two days of protests in which official reports said 22 people died.

Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns loyal to the Dalai Lama have led many of the rallies against Chinese rule that have erupted sporadically in Lhasa since September 1987.

Authorities in Tibet have acknowledged that more than 400 Tibetans, including monks and nuns, were arrested in Lhasa after martial law was imposed last March, with dozens being sent to labor camps without trial.

Tibetan exiles put the figures much higher, saying that more than 200 Tibetans were killed by security forces during and after the military crackdown. Thousands of Tibetans have been imprisoned, with torture in jail commonplace, they say.

Western travelers have witnessed police and troops patrolling in the capital. As recently as March they reported a major display of military force as armored personnel carriers and trucks of troops or armed police drove through Lhasa.

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