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China to monks: Exit quake zone

BEIJING - Chinese authorities said yesterday that Buddhist monks had been advised to leave an earthquake zone in a Tibetan region because specialized personnel were needed for reconstruction work, rejecting accusations that the monks had been told to leave for political reasons.

BEIJING - Chinese authorities said yesterday that Buddhist monks had been advised to leave an earthquake zone in a Tibetan region because specialized personnel were needed for reconstruction work, rejecting accusations that the monks had been told to leave for political reasons.

The death toll from last week's earthquake is up to 2,187, with schoolchildren accounting for more than 200 of those deaths.

The information office for the State Council, China's Cabinet, issued a statement in response to questions from the Associated Press about why Tibetan monks were told this week to leave Yushu county, the epicenter of the quake in a remote corner of western Qinghai province.

"Now it's the phase for epidemic prevention and reconstruction and [it] requires specialized personnel to start their work," the statement said. "It would bring more difficulties to disaster relief work if lots of unprofessional personnel were at the scene." .

Earlier this week, Tibetan Buddhist monks said they had been told to leave the area. Monasteries were given verbal orders to recall thousands of monks who had come to the region from neighboring provinces in the wake of the April 14 quake.

China's communist leadership remains wary of Buddhist monks because of their loyalty to their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who has pushed for Tibetan independence.

The State Council Information Office acknowledged the monks' "positive role" in quake efforts, saying they helped with rescue work, donating money and materials, organizing prayer sessions and conducting memorials for the dead.

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