China has banned foreigners from some restive, heavily Tibetan parts of southwestern Sichuan province, travel agents said on Friday, in an apparent attempt to close off a region shaken by recent clashes with the police.
The notice, issued by provincial public security authorities, said foreigners were prohibited from entering the Tibetan populated prefecture of Ganzi and several counties in neighboring Aba prefecture.
“Foreigners already in the aforementioned areas are to be urged to leave,” the notice dated April 21 said, copies of which were placed on the websites of some Chinese travel agencies.
“When the ban is lifted there will be another notice,” it added, without providing an explanation on the move.
Foreigners already need permission to travel to what China calls the Tibet Autonomous Region, but the government is generally more relaxed about Tibetan areas in other provinces such as Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu.
China does, however, periodically place these Tibetan areas out of bounds to foreigners during times of tension.
Last week, hundreds of ethnic Tibetans had gathered at the Kirti monastery in Aba, trying to stop authorities moving out monks for government-mandated “re-education,” according to exiled Tibetans and activists.
That prompted police to lock down the monastery with as many as 2,500 monks inside. China has denied any unrest, saying on Tuesday that everything was “normal” at the Tibetan Buddhist monastery.
Tang Xuelian, the director of the news department at the Sichuan public security bureau, said she was “unaware” of the notice, which exempted several other Tibetan areas in Sichuan, including tourist sites.
Three travel agencies reached by telephone confirmed the announcement had come from the provincial authorities and that they had received it on Friday.
“Contact us again. Hopefully this situation will be resolved soon,” said one travel agent.
Last month, a 21-year-old Tibetan monk burned himself to death in Aba, which erupted in defiance against Chinese Communist Party control three years ago.
His act echoed protests that gripped Tibetan areas of China in March 2008, when Buddhist monks and other Tibetan people loyal to the Dalai Lama confronted police and troops across the region.
China has ruled Tibet since Communist troops marched in 1950. The traditional Buddhist leader of the region, the Dalai Lama, fled to exile in northern India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
(Reporting by Michael Martina and Sally Huang; Editing by Ben Blanchard, Ken Wills and Yoko Nishikawa)