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Swiss-Tibetans oppose World Bank project

Preparing a fire in a house in Jiaotu village. Many from the village will be moved as part of the resettlement project Keystone

Tibetan exiles and Swiss development organisations are calling on Switzerland's representatives at the World Bank to reject a plan to resettle Chinese in areas populated by Mongolians and Tibetans.

This content was published on July 5, 2000 - 16:38

Opponents of the World Bank project say Beijing is trying to dilute the ethnic mix in certain areas of Qinghai province by importing Han and Hui Chinese.

The World Bank is scheduled to decide on Thursday whether to commission a 15-month international study to assess the potential effects of a project to resettle thousands of people.

The Bank maintains the $311-million Western Poverty Reduction Project will significantly improve farming activities and provide health services and safe water supplies. It says the area is home to some of China's poorest inhabitants, and that 1.7 million people stand to benefit.

However, exile Tibetans in Switzerland and non-governmental organisations are critical of one of the three components of the project, which involves moving nearly 60,000 people from Haidong Prefecture in Qinghai province to Dulan County in the province's Haixi Prefecture.

This will totally change the ethnic balance in Haixi, which is currently home to 5,000 people, more than half of whom are Mongolians. The area also supports a few hundred Tibetan herders. The rest are ethnic Chinese. Haixi is designated a Mongol and Tibetan Prefecture, which provides special protection for the cultural and ethnic identity of the people there.

The development organisation, Berne Declaration, says the World Bank would break many of its own guidelines if it voted to support the project, including support for involuntary resettlement, the protection of indigenous peoples, and environmental sustainability.

The bank disagrees. In a summary paper, it said the people due to be resettled had applied to do so. It also rejects criticism that it is tampering with the region's ethnic balance because the population movement will take place entirely within Qinghai province.

The Bank admits that Han and Hui Chinese will replace Mongols as the predominant ethnic groups in the areas earmarked for resettlement. However, it said the Chinese authorities had promised to "guard against the undermining of minority nationality cultures".

The Bank said the Tibetan population had been given assurances that its pastoral lifestyle would not substantially affected.

The Dalai Lama has said in theory he is not against resettlement in Tibetan areas, but that "under present circumstances it would be the source of even more problems" between Chinese and Tibetans.

The Swiss authorities said they were still evaluating what position they would take at the World Bank meeting in Washington to evaluate the project.

swissinfo with agencies

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