Lobsang Sangay, exiled Tibetan leader, says China is sealing off Tibet and preparing a crackdown


Prime Minister of the Tibetan government in exile, Lobsang Sangay, says China is "sealing off" the region and preparing a crackdown during Tibetan New Year celebrations


John Thys

The leader of Tibet’s government in exile, Lobsang Sangay, claims China is closing off the region to outsiders and sending in thousands of extra security forces for a crackdown to coincide with Tibetan New Year celebrations.

Sangay told the Associated Press that China is expecting the festival from Feb. 22, as well as the March 10 anniversary of the Tibetan Rebellion, to bring many Tibetans into the streets and the authorities are preparing to crush any demonstrations of dissent.

"They have sealed off Tibet," Lobsang Sangay is quoted as saying from the exiled government’s headquarters in Dharamsala, India.

The news agency reports that the region is closed to outsiders, particularly journalists, and says that foreign tourists have been ordered to leave.

"Chinese security personnel are cracking down on Tibetans for one pretext or another and the world will not know whether they were arrested, whether they were tortured, whether they were killed,” Lobsang Sangay said.

Lobsang Sangay’s comments were published on Tuesday, the same day that the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao defended his government’s policies for Tibet during a summit of European leaders. Reuters reported that his were the highest level comments made on the situation since a recent increase in tension.

"We respect and protect Tibet's ecological environment and traditional culture, respect and protect religious freedom in Tibet," Wen said in response to a reporter’s question.

“Our Tibetan countrymen are an important part of China's family of ethnic groups. They are our brothers," he said.

More from GlobalPost: Tense times continue in Tibet

On Monday, the London-based International Campaign for Tibet reported that a teenage monk had set himself on fire in the latest in a series of self-immolations protesting China’s presence in Tibet. The group claimed that the 19-year-old from Aba prefecture in Sichuan province was beaten by security forces putting out the flames and then carried away from the scene. His condition is not known.

Reuters says Wen Jiaboa dismissed the self-immolations as extreme acts that “do not have popular support.”