A still from video circulated online of the temple fire. Photo: file

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Dharamshala — Tibetan President Dr Lobsang Sangay has reportedly sent an open letter to UNESCO calling for them to launch a private investigation in to the Jokhang Temple fire from February 17.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site is located in the heart of Lhasa and is considered both one of the holiest and most politically sensitive sights in Tibet. The temple has seen several protests over the years, and also sees thousands of devotees who pray at the site every day.

Since the fire breakout at Jokhang temple, China has imposed a strict censorship of information relating to the incident, leaving Tibetans and devotees all over the world concerned for its condition.

President Dr Sangay also expressed his own concern, stating that the “fire that broke out at 18:40 hours (Lhasa time) on February 17 this year, the second day of the traditional Tibetan New Year has caused extensive damage to the 1,300 year-old temple and to the numerous priceless relics, statues, murals, scriptures and artifacts housed inside the Jokhang temple.” Most of these artifacts survived the destructive Cultural Revolution. He called it an “irreplaceable loss of a sacred treasure of an ancient civilization.”

In the open letter President Dr Sangay also lamented “the deafening silence from the Chinese government has left not only Tibetans but also the international community worried and searching for answers.”

“Although the Chinese authorities in Lhasa claim that the damage is not significant, the Tibetan public has remained concerned as the video footage posted on social media show the roof of the temple engulfed in an inferno, fearing that the damage could be much more intensive,” wrote Dr Sangay

“I therefore, urge UNESCO to lead an emergency mission to assess the damage caused by the fire to the Jowo statue as well as to the Jokhang temple. Such a mission would help allay the deep fears and anxiety of the Tibetan people,” concluded Dr Sangay.