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Tibetans Get News From Indian Radio

June 29, 1998

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ When she was in Tibet, Gyaltsen Chotso huddled under quilts to muffle the sound when she listened to news broadcasts on her short-wave radio.

``People inside Tibet feel they have missed their breakfast if they cannot listen to the radio news for a day,″ Chotso said about radio shows financed by the U.S. and Norwegian governments.

Three years ago, the 28-year-old Buddhist nun fled to neighboring India, which is a haven for more than 100,000 other Tibetans. She said she had been imprisoned and tortured by Chinese authorities for shouting anti-Beijing slogans at rallies.

Even here, she still regularly tunes in to the Tibetan programs on Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America, both run by the United States, and the Norway-based Voice of Tibet.

The services have 10 Tibetan journalists based in India to report on events relating to Tibet.

For instance, they recently gave extensive coverage to a hunger strike by Tibetan exiles in India. One group demanding Tibetan independence fasted seven weeks before being hospitalized against their will, and five other exiles who took up the protest fasted 18 days before giving up. A man who was to have been among the second group set himself on fire in a protest and later died.

China often tries to drown politically sensitive foreign broadcasts with shrill droning noises from jamming stations. The radio networks then switch frequencies, with the Chinese jammers in pursuit.

That kind of Cold War cat-and-mouse game seems out of place in U.S.-Chinese relations. In 1994, President Clinton decided trade with China would not be affected by human rights issues.

But ever since the Chinese government put down pro-democracy protests in 1989, the U.S. Congress has felt it had to act. The Voice of America started its Tibetan broadcasts in 1990 and Radio Free Asia added a Tibetan service in 1996.

``Congress saw broadcasts into China as an effective tool to break the stranglehold of the Chinese Communist Party,″ the U.S. State Department says.

Just before Clinton arrived last week, China withdrew the visas of three Radio Free Asia employees who had planned to cover the trip. Clinton denounced the decision.

Over the weekend, Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin debated Tibet and other issues. The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, reportedly applauded the talks.

The Norwegian government finances voluntary groups that in turn fund the Voice of Tibet.

``There is genuine concern among Norwegian people for the Tibetans, and this awareness has especially increased after the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1989,″ said Bjorn Midthun, a spokesman for the Norwegian Embassy in New Delhi.

Audience figures are impossible to get, but hundreds of letters and messages sneaked across the border from Tibet in the past few months indicate the popularity of the broadcasts.

The few hours of daily programming on each station include news, music and discussions on education, religion, literature and Tibetan history.

``People say the networks broadcast hope of independence,″ said Tsering Migmar, a reporter for the Voice of America’s Tibetan service.

But the Tibetan journalists say their goal is to deliver straightforward news reports to Tibetans.

``Our focus is to stick to journalistic ethics,″ said Lobsang Yeshi at Radio Free Asia. ``We are trying to make our (exile) government more transparent and introduce the Tibetan people to democratic functioning.″

Yeshi offended conservative Tibetans last year when he reported on a Tibetan youth who was arrested by Indian authorities for drug trafficking.

``If it is news, it has to be reported,″ he said.

``There is a saying in Tibetan: You can’t shut out the rising sun by holding up your palm against your face,″ he added.

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