BEIJING, April 19 (UPI) -- Thousands of Tibetan Buddhist monks were allowed to help other rescuers in relief operations at earthquake-ravaged Yushu County in China's Qinghai region.
The monks, who traveled long distances to reach the scene, distribute packaged biscuits, tend huge vats of barley and dig for survivors in the rubble, The New York Times reported.
The earthquake struck the northwest region near Tibet Wednesday. At least 1,706 people were killed, 12,128 injured and 256 were missing.
The work of the monks remained uncoordinated but was being accepted and tolerated by Chinese Communist authorities, despite the history of Chinese-Tibetan relations since China took Tibet in 1950. Chinese authorities have been more wary since violence broke out in March 2008 in Tibet.
On Saturday, the Tibetan monks helped cremate 1,400 bodies without government involvement, the report said. Several Tibetan-run organizations also have been allowed to provide aid and medical services, unlike in May 2008 when non-government groups were prevented from such work after an earthquake that year devastated Sichuan province.
The Times said Jiegu city, the worst affected in the quake-hit Yushu region, has largely been quiet so far.
"Maybe it's because we have always been given more freedom to practice our culture," Aji Suo Nade Ji, 36, a secretary in the local environmental bureau, told the Times.
Robbie Barnett, director of the modern Tibetan studies at Columbia University, described the presence of the monks as "remarkable," and said he hoped Beijing would see the Yushu quake as an opportunity to promote goodwill.