LHASA, CHINA -- Many foreigners visiting Tibet have become firm believers in Tibetan independence, and a few even plunged with gusto into recent anti-Chinese demonstrations.
But few got closer to the action than Joseph Solem, a tourist from Davis, Calif., who followed close behind as rioters carried a body near a burning police station, dodged police bullets, and then watched a man next to him defy the police with bare hands until he was hit by a bullet.
The American tourist's story could not be independently corroborated, but he spoke calmly and in convincing detail in an interview here with two reporters.
Solem said in the interview that in the midst of rioting against a police station last Thursday, he watched the police fire with pistols on Tibetan demonstrators.
The tourist said that he and several other demonstrators ended up walking behind the body of a 16-year-old boy, shot by police, which was being carried by demonstrators to show the crowd -- and the police -- the tragedy that had occurred.
"We walked behind the body," he said. "We thought that with foreigners there, they wouldn't shoot in this narrow street at us. But a hail of bullets came out."
"I leaped into a doorway," he said. "Everybody leaped into doorways, except one person who held his ground in the middle of the street.
"He had a rock in each hand. He dropped the rocks. He stood there. He smiled. If you've ever seen the movie 'Platoon' where a sergeant is killed by another sergeant, you'll know what I was looking at.
"They kept firing until they finally hit him in the leg. It broke the bone . . . . It was haphazard fire. Fortunately, I knew of a doctor, and I told them to take the man to a particular location. I think he got medical care."
Parts of Solem's description conform with that of other toursts who were present that day.
"Perhaps the most remarkable thing I saw was kids taking an AK47 rifle from the police and smashing it," Solem said. "I thought they were going to shoot it for a moment but they ended up smashing it."
Solem said that despite the fervor of these demonstrators, there is a wide variety of viewpoints among Tibetans.
"Some want to fight," he said. "Some want to do nothing. Some want to go back to their business."
Solem said he believes that the only way out of the Tibet crisis is for other countries to "put a little bit of pressure on the Chinese -- in trade and credits and things like that -- to get them to ease up on the Tibetans, to let them have some rights."