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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
In the mountains of the Tibetan plateau, villagers killed in last week's massive earthquake were cremated this weekend. As of this morning, the quake is being blamed for nearly 2,000 deaths - with hundreds more still missing. The task of cremating the dead fell to Buddhist monks. And the monks performed their traditional role under the watchful gaze of the Chinese government. NPR's Anthony Kuhn has this report.
ANTHONY KUHN: Lama Dan Ba: (Through translator) The government must allow people to follow their religions, especially following this huge quake. The government has trusted and permitted us to handle and cremate the dead as it is in line with religious freedom and religious rules.
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KUHN: In Tibet, Buddhist temples are centers of learning and science. Monks are the backbone of the regions civil society. But China's government is sometimes uncomfortable with and mistrustful of religious and civil groups. Sha Shi Ping(ph), a spokesman at the government's rescue command post, says both government and society have a role to play.
SHA SHI PING: The reason our rescue efforts have made such progress and been so effective is that the government has played the leading role. But citizens groups have also made a big contribution.
KUHN: Mr. Ge Laidanzeng (Monk): (Foreign language spoken)
KUHN: Wan Li Xun(ph) is author of the book, "Sky Burial," one of the more critical looks at China's Tibet policies by a Chinese author. He says that the earthquake gives both officials and monks a chance to show goodwill to the local population.
WAN LI XUN: (Through translator) I believe that some officials see this as a competition between the government and religion for the people's hearts and minds. So while we hear a lot from society about the monk's great contributions, we read very little about it in the official media.
KUHN: Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.
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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
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