April 18, 2002

NEW DELHI, India (AP) - Buddhist monks wept in the rubble as Chinese authorities razed Tibet's largest religious institute and nunnery, two monks who secretly filmed the destruction and escaped said Thursday.

"We were frightened to see so many Chinese. Right away they started to destroy thousands of homes of our monks and nuns," monk Khempa Tenkyong, who fled from the Serthar Institute in the Sichuan province, just east of Tibet.

He was speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia after a screening on Thursday by campaigners against China's occupation of Tibet of a 10-minute documentary pieced together with the smuggled footage.

According to the Tibetan Center of Human Rights and Democracy, more than 8,000 students were forcibly evicted and about 2,000 homes demolished by Chinese laborers through 2001 at the institute. It said the demolitions started on June 26, 2001.

Chinese officials on Thursday denied the institute had been ravaged.

"This is not true. They have not been evicted. I don't think this video is the real thing," Yang Shuying, first secretary at the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi, told The Associated Press.

"The Chinese government respects people in Tibet. (They) enjoy religious freedom," she said.

Tenkyong, dressed in a flowing saffron robe, and another monk, Paltrup, had escaped the institute by hitching rides at night to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa to avoid Chinese security forces. From Lhasa, they said they walked for a month across the Himalayas to reach Nepal, from where they had come to India.

Tenkyong said Jigme Phuntsok, who founded the Serthar Institute in 1980 and is the most popular Tibetan religious leader living in Tibet, has been detained by Chinese authorities.

He also alleged that nuns at the institute were coerced to denounce the Dalai Lama, the supreme leader of Tibetan Buddhists, and forced to sign documents vowing allegiance to the communist leaders.

The grainy video images showed men in suits and armed soldiers watching as workers with pickaxes and crowbars demolished huts along a hilly, grassy expanse, said to be part of the institute campus. Weeping old women searched for belongings in the rubble.

Tenkyong said the Chinese authorities spared the main Buddhist shrine at the institute.

The Tibetan Center of Human Rights said 19,000 monks and nuns from different Tibetan sects had been evicted from their homeland over the past seven years.

China claims that Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries, and has run the region with a heavy hand since communist troops arrived there in 1950.

The Dalai Lama fled during a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 and has led a campaigns for autonomy from exile in northern India.

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