Tibetans Burn Rare Animal Skins At Dalai Lama's Request

Thousands of Tibetans have burned rare animal pelts and skins in response to a call by the Dalai Lama, their exiled spiritual leader, to give up products made from endangered animals, Tibetan exiles said Friday.

The wearing of coats trimmed with fur from tigers, leopards, otters and other rare animals recently became stylish in Tibet, prompting warnings from environmental groups of the damage to wild populations.

The Chinese government reportedly banned the burnings last week and, according to an Indian animal rights group, arrested nine people for "public unrest and colluding with the Dalai Lama."

An estimated $75 million worth of animal skins have been burnt in the eastern Tibet alone, said Lobsang Choephal, a 35-year-old monk who smuggled video footage of the burning out of Tibet.

The footage, shown to the press Friday in Dharmsala, headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile, shows thousands of Tibetans gathered in the Kirti Monastery in eastern Tibet throwing traditional Tibetan dresses lined with animal fur into a giant bonfire.

Organizers planned to bring the anti-skins campaign to a climax with a mass burning at a monastery on Sunday, but authorities issued a ban shortly before it was to take place, according to TibetInfoNet, a group based in Germany.

The Dalai Lama, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, fled Tibet amid an aborted uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 and is routinely accused by Beijing of being a religious charlatan and separatist bent on gaining independence for Tibet.

The Dalai Lama has said repeatedly that he does not want independence for Tibet — only more autonomy.

On Friday, 37 Nobel laureates released a joint letter released an open letter to China's President Hu Jintao urging China to grant autonomy to its western Tibetan regions, citing Hong Kong as an example of China's "one country, two systems" approach.

TheWildlife Trust of India, which helped expose the use of endangered skins in Tibet, said two Chinese and seven Tibetans were arrested for the burnings.

"These events are significant for us as they show the world and especially to China that Tibetans all over listen to the Dalai Lama and are willing to make sacrifices if he wishes so," said Choephal, the monk who smuggled out the videos of the burning.