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World - Asia/Pacific

World Bank's financing of Tibet resettlement draws fire

Human rights groups say China wants to dilute Tibetan culture

June 25, 1999
Web posted at: 8:29 p.m. EDT (0029 GMT)

From Beijing Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon

BEIJING (CNN) -- A plan by the Chinese government to resettle 60,000 of its citizens in the historically Tibetan province of Dulan, using money supplied by the World Bank, is drawing fire from human rights activists.

Over the opposition of the United States and Germany, the World Bank on Thursday approved the expenditure of $40 million for the relocation, which critics say is designed to further dilute the Tibetan population in Dulan.

For centuries, Dulan's population was mostly ethnic Tibetan. But now, Tibetans are outnumbered by ethnic Chinese, and the relocation will further that trend because most of the people to be resettled are either ethnic Chinese or Muslim.

The new Dulan settlers hail from Qinghai, an impoverished province deep in China's interior that few outsiders visit. The idea behind the relocation, the government says, is to improve the economic prospects for people mired in poverty in Qinghai.

But such ethnic migrations are a hot topic for activists monitoring human rights in Tibet, which China invaded in 1959 and made into an official autonomous region in 1965.

Critics say that the government is trying to strengthen its control of Tibet by resettling large numbers of Chinese there, diluting Tibet's unique culture and sense of identity.

"The Tibetans are dispossessed, they are vulnerable, they don't have a political voice," said John Ackerly of the International Campaign for Tibet. "So China can get away with moving its population on to Tibetan lands, but it could just as well move them into a more prosperous area of China."

However, World Bank officials insist that none of the money earmarked for the Dulan resettlement will be spent until after an independent inspection.

"This is not a behind-closed-doors operation," said Peter Stephens, a bank spokesman. "The whole purpose of doing this is to make sure that at every step from now on, as much information as exists is available."

China's foreign ministry denounced the U.S. opposition to the resettlement plan, accusing the United States of using Tibet as a pretext to meddle in China's internal affairs.

The Chinese government says it will let international journalists, politicians and diplomats have access to the areas affected by the relocation -- to prove that the project is in the best interests of the poor of Qinghai.

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The World Bank Group
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of P.R.China
International Campaign for Tibet - Save Tibet
Tibetan Government in Exile's Official Web Site
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