Tourists tell of Lhasa lockdown

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 March, 2008, 12:00am


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Gunfire broke out again in parts of Lhasa overnight on Saturday, while house-to-house searches and signs of massive deployment of troops added to the climate of fear in the Tibetan capital, travellers said yesterday.

'Of the three days I can report to you about, the worst day would have been yesterday [Saturday]. I heard muffled gunshot fire,' said Gerald Scott Flint, director of a US-based non-governmental organisation called Volunteer Medics Worldwide.

Mr Flint, a former US marine who is still in the military reserve, also heard explosions and saw a vehicle burning early yesterday before leaving Lhasa.

'What was apparent was that there was control. There were soldiers at every corner, military with full combat gear on,' he said, adding that their equipment included automatic weapons, riot batons and shields, gas masks, and helmets with face shields.

Other travellers reported seeing People's Liberation Army soldiers and the paramilitary People's Armed Police, as well as regular police.

Traveller Chelsea Hockett heard automatic-weapons fire.

'We couldn't leave and there was gunfire - probably machine guns,' the college student said. 'My guide said he was talking to some of his friends and they were saying nobody could walk on the streets because people were getting shot.'

Some travellers saw hundreds of trucks transporting troops and materials, though the destinations were unknown. 'Our guide told us it was going to Everest and the border with Nepal,' said one US tourist. China is planning to route the Olympic torch run over Mount Everest.

A military lockdown of Lhasa remained in effect as well as a curfew.

'There was a military presence all around. We were checked four times from the airport to our hotel,' Danish tourist Andreas Larsen-Helms said.

Tour guides were telling tourists all foreigners had been ordered to leave Tibet. Foreign tourists in the city were confined to their hotels.

Some tourists were able to fly to Lhasa from Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, or enter Tibet from Nepal by road several days ago, but were not able to enter the city. Others arriving by train from Beijing were also turned away.

'You can't really get into the centre,' British tourist Linda Martin said.