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 from endangered animals, Tibetan exiles said on Friday.
But the move has raised the ire of the Chinese authorities, who have arrested nine people for "colluding with the Dalai Lama," an Indian animal rights group said. The Chinese government reportedly banned the burnings last week.
"An estimated 6 hundred million yuan [US$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 burnings out of Tibet.
The footage, shown to the press on Friday in Dharmsala, the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile, shows thousands of Tibetans gathered in the Kirti Monastery in Amdo region in Eastern Tibet throwing traditional Tibetan dresses lined with animal fur into a giant bonfire.
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 such endangered species' wild populations.
Organizers planned to bring the anti-skins campaign to a climax with a mass burning at a monastery today, but authorities issued a ban shortly before it was to take place, according to TibetInfoNet, a group based in Germany.
The burning at the Kirti monastery took place on Feb. 11, Choephal said. It was unclear whether the event took place after the practice was banned.
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 repeatedly said that he doesn't want independence for Tibet -- only more autonomy.
On Friday, a group of 37 Nobel laureates relased a joint letter released an open letter to China's President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) urging China to grant autonomy to its western Tibetan regions, citing Hong Kong as an example of China's "one country, two systems" approach.
The letter was released by the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, based in New York City. It was cosigned by Peace Prize laureates Wiesel, F.W. de Klerk, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire, and literature laureates J.M. Coetzee and Wole Soyinka.
Other signatories were winners for chemistry, economics, medicine and physics.
An Indian animal rights group, which helped expose the use of endangered skins in Tibet, said nine people -- two Chinese and seven Tibetans -- were arrested for the burnings.