Fatal landslide highlights Tibet's environmental destruction

2nd April 2013

Rescuers have recovered 36 bodies from a landslide in Tibet that buried 83 workers at a copper mine on Friday. No survivors are expected to be found. The news comes as another self-immolation in Tibet is confirmed.

Environmental destruction

The mine, which is in the Gyama Valley 45 miles (70km) east of Lhasa and mainly produces copper but also silver and gold, is owned by a subsidiary of state-owned China National Gold Group, China's biggest gold producer. It is an example of the Chinese government's exploitation of Tibet's rich mineral wealth, as the region has vast reserves of copper, lead, zinc and iron ore. Chinese state-run media attributed the landslide to "natural reasons", but the Tibetan government-in-exile believes the incident could be a result of the "aggressive expansion" of the open-cast mine "in order to acquire maximum profit in the shortest period of time". A recent Chinese government study revealed that the cost of environmental degradation across China in 2010 was about $230 billion (£150bn) or 3.5 per cent of the nation's gross domestic product. The expansion of mines has also forced many Tibetan farmers and nomads away from their ancestral pastures and arable land.

Migrant workers

Only two of the missing workers are reported to be ethnic Tibetans with most Han Chinese migrants. The Chinese government has invested heavily in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, doubling its economy between 2000 and 2005, but staffing at the mine shows how this growth has excluded ethnic Tibetans. In August 2010 a Tibetan man named Babo was shot dead by police during a protest against the activities of a mining company in Palyul County, eastern Tibet. Dozens of locals joined the protest, and were reportedly beaten before the shooting happened during a stand-off with police. Click here for an update on the miners' recovery.


Kunchoek Tenzin.jpg

Free Tibet has also received confirmation of another self-immolation in eastern Tibet. 28-year-old monk Kunchoek Tenzin died at the scene near Mogri monastery on March 26. His body was taken to the monastery and cremated that night amid fears the Chinese authorities would forcibly take his body. He was the youngest of seven siblings and was admitted to the monastery at a young age. More than 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest of China’s occupation. Read the full list.

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Environmental destruction and human rights violations continue apace inside Tibet. Find out ways you can take action for Tibet.