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China Mandates 'Happiness' Campaign in Restive Tibetan Area

Activists display portraits of people who killed themselves by self-immolation take part in a rally to support Tibet, Taipei, Taiwan, March 10, 2013.

Chinese authorities in a notoriously restive region in eastern Tibet are forcing residents to participate in a local annual festival, which many started boycotting five years ago following the start of self-immolation protests.

A Tibetan source told VOA the locals in Driru county have been warned they may face punitive actions or even imprisonment for defying the orders.

The source, who did not want to be identified because he has close contacts in the area, said residents of Tsala town have been warned they might lose the right to collect the highly priced cordyceps fungus, which many rely on for their livelihood.

Youth in the town are now being compelled to practice songs and dances for the festival, added the source, who lives outside of China. “We know that the real purpose of the [Chinese] plan is to allow senior leaders to show that the Tibetan people are happy and living in prosperity,” he said.

People in Driru have boycotted the annual festival since 2009, when the first of more than 130 Tibetans staged self-immolations to protest Chinese rule over their homeland.

Chinese officials consider Driru one of the most restive regions in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

More than 1,000 have been arrested since October of last year when defiant Tibetan residents refused to raise the Chinese national flag on their houses. They later dumped many of the flags in a local river and staged protests that led to clashes with authorities.

Chinese authorities have not commented on the new effort to increase participation in the annual festival.

Meanwhile, Tibetan observers in India said all monks and nuns from Driru who had been studying in monasteries outside of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, have been called back home. The sources, who do not want to be identified, says the monks and nuns, along with families whose relatives are living abroad, are being kept in a military garrison for patriotic reeducation.

“This could be from one month to six months at a time,” one source told the VOA Tibetan service Tuesday. Observers say sometimes there are as many as 400 Tibetans at a time in the reeducation center.

Chinese authorities have not commented on the reports of monks and nuns being recalled and put into a reeducation program.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Tibetan service.