Dharamshala, June 9 : With eyes still wide with fear, Tibetan protesters recount how the Chinese guns silenced the recent protests in Lhasa.
Police went door-to-door in midnight swoops as they searched for Tibetans who participated in the protests that flared up in March, one of the protesters said.
Kunsang Sonam, a 38-year-old textile trader and father-of-one said in Dharamsala that he saw at least six Tibetans die from gunshot and knife wounds.
Sonam said he feared for his life and so he sneaked across the Nepal border-- a major transit point for those fleeing Tibet to come to Dharamsala in India, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
"On March 10, we held a peaceful demonstration against the Chinese rule and on March 14, we had a bigger demonstration held in Tibet. At that time, lots of Chinese police came to Lhasa and they started firing on us. Chinese soldiers also came up and they were arresting people and were firing on us with tanks, guns, and they were bombing us with tear gas bombs," Sonam said..
Days of monk-led marches in Tibet's capital Lhasa devolved into a citywide riot on March 14 that saw Chinese shops thrashed and burned and cars overturned. China says about 20 "innocent" civilians were killed by mobs. The government-in-exile says more than 100 protesters were killed by Chinese troops. Hundreds of rioters have been arrested.
Sonam is one of the few who managed to escape from Tibet after the outbreak of violence.
He said the Tibetans in his homeland were living in perpetual fear-especially those who participated in the demonstrations.
The protests were the climax to years of resentment towards the Chinese policy of filling up the Tibetan areas with people of Chinese origin, outnumbering and outranking the ethnic Tibetans in their own land, he said.
"Those who have been arrested by the Chinese police, they are being tortured badly. Those who have not been arrested are living in fear of when the Chinese police will come and arrest them. Tibetan people are not allowed to move around freely-- this is the situation inside Tibet," said Sonam.
The dormitories in Dharamsala may be drab, but they offer much relief and happiness to the Tibetans who have fled their home country to be with their leader.
They are free to stick up any number of smiling pictures of the Dalai Lama or wave Tibetan flags -- both prohibited activities in Tibet.
Almost all of the 2,500 to 3,000 Tibetans who escape from the country each year pass through the centre in Dharamsala-- a small Himalayan foothill town teaming with tourist-filled cafes and souvenir shops stuffed with Indian crafts.
However, officials at the refugee centre say the number of fresh arrivals from Tibet has dropped sharply over the past couple of months- mainly because of stricter border patrols by the Chinese authorities, which makes it nigh impossible for Tibetans to escape.
Sonam yearns to return to his family - daughter, wife, brother and father-- but that is now impossible.
Mingyur Youdon, one of the workers at the refugee centre said the condition of the monks inside Tibet was depressing.
"Chinese authority- they also stop supplying food, water, and electricity to the monastery. Monks are dying because of starvation inside monastery," Youdon said as tears welled up her eyes.
Monks caught with images of the Dalai Lama were forced to curse his name or be jailed, she added.
The Dalai Lama is pressing world leaders to urge China to ease the crackdown on Tibet and his envoys held talks with officials in China last month, but Beijing blames the rioting on the India-based Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader.