Monday, April 26, 2010

China Asks Monks to Leave Quake Area

Chinese authorities confirmed Friday reports that they had asked Buddhist monks to end their relief work in Qinghai, the province in central China’s highlands where an earthquake last week left at least 2,187 people dead.

The officials disputed complaints from some monks that they were being expelled for political reasons, saying that better-trained workers were required for tasks like disease prevention and building reconstruction.

In a written response to questions from The Associated Press, the central government’s State Council Information Office expressed gratitude for the monks’ rescue efforts. But “it would bring more difficulties to disaster relief work if lots of unprofessional personnel were at the scene,” the statement added.

The state-run Xinhua news agency quoted the governor of Yushu Prefecture, where the quake was centered, as saying that he knew of no order to expel the monks. “We did not give or receive any orders of such kind,” the governor, Wang Yuhu, was quoted as saying. “Actually, we are very grateful for the role Tibetan monks played in the relief effort.”

The quake, which hit a sparsely populated plateau, injured more than 12,000 people, 9,145 of whom are still hospitalized, the Health Ministry said Thursday.

Yushu Prefecture is home to perhaps 200 Buddhist temples, Xinhua reported. But hundreds if not thousands of monks had streamed into Yushu from surrounding areas to assist in rescue work after the earthquake struck early on April 14.

Buddhist monks ran most of the early rescue operations in Jiegu, a city of 100,000 near the quake’s epicenter. As rescues of survivors dwindled, the monks have supervised mass cremations and the mandatory three-day period of mourning.

For days, the monks conducted their work with little or no interference from officials. But some complained this week that Chinese Army personnel and other government officials had begun to elbow them out of rescue and relief efforts. They said the government wanted to cast the rescue operations not as an indigenous effort, but as a generous gesture from the central government to the region’s ethnic Tibetan population.

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