From N.Y. Times

May 2, 2008
Dalai Lama envoys head to China
Filed at 12:44 p.m. ET

DHARMSALA, India (AP) -- The Dalai Lama's envoys headed for China on Friday to hold the first talks with Chinese officials since violent protests erupted in Tibet.

China has faced mounting calls to negotiate with Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, and many believe it agreed to the talks in a bid to ease the pressure ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

The two envoys were going to China for ''informal talks with representatives of the Chinese leadership,'' the Dalai Lama's office said in a statement. It gave no further details on where or when the talks would take place, though Tibetan government spokesman Thubten Samphal said the envoys had arrived in Hong Kong on Friday.

The representatives would convey the Dalai Lama's ''deep concerns,'' over China's handling of the crisis in Tibet, which turned violent in March, and would put forward ''suggestions to bring peace to the region,'' the statement said.

Beijing said last week it would meet an envoy of the Dalai Lama. But China underscored long-established preconditions for negotiations, including that the Dalai Lama unambiguously recognize Tibet as a part of China.

The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet amid a failed uprising in 1959, says he seeks meaningful autonomy for Tibet rather than independence from Chinese rule.

China and representatives of the Dalai Lama's government in exile held six rounds of inconclusive talks that foundered in 2006.

Despite long-running tensions, both sides have kept open back channels for dialogue, although they do not often talk about them. Recent discussions have been led by the Dalai Lama's special envoy, Lodi Gyari.

Friday's statement said Gyari and another envoy, Kelsang Gyaltsen, would lead these talks and ''raise the issue of moving forward on the process for a mutually satisfactory solution to the Tibetan issue.''

Samphal said the talks were being held on an informal level only ''because we cannot do business as usual when the situation in Tibet is so grave.''

''The crisis in Tibet should end before formal discussions should be held,'' Samphal said.

The envoys will meet with the head of China's United Front Work Department during their three-day visit, Samphal said. The department was the envoys' host in their previous meetings.

Since the last talks, the department was given a new boss, Du Qinglin, a former minister of agriculture who more recently ran Sichuan province, which has a large Tibetan population.

Beijing has faced a chorus of calls from world leaders to open a dialogue. The decision comes as something of a reversal in the face of Beijing's relentless claims that the Dalai Lama and his followers orchestrated March's violence in Tibet.

Tibetan activists and their supporters abroad were taking a wait-and-see approach before judging the sincerity of the Chinese to actually negotiate.

''I think it has some potential because both sides have been thinking about this moment for some time,'' Mary Beth Markey, vice president for international advocacy at the International Campaign for Tibet. The group is based in Washington, but Markey spoke from New Delhi, where she was meeting Tibetan exiles.

''But the history of China making these kinds of gestures to quiet international concern is well established. So I'd have to say I'm cautiously optimistic,'' she added.

The recent protests in Tibet marked the most widespread and sustained action against Beijing's rule in decades, focusing attention on accusations that China's policies in the Himalayan region are eroding its traditional Buddhist culture and mainly benefit Chinese who moved there since its 1951 occupation by Communist troops.

China says 22 people died in violence in Tibet's capital of Lhasa, while overseas Tibet supporters say many times that number have been killed in protests and the security crackdown across Tibetan regions of western China.

The crackdown also stirred international protests against China during the world tour of the Olympic torch ahead of August's Olympic Games in Beijing. In several cities on the 20-nation tour, the torch relay was disrupted by pro-Tibet demonstrators.

In Nepal on Friday, police detained more than 100 Tibetans protesting in front of the Chinese Embassy in the capital Katmandu, defying a ban on protests against the Chinese government.

Chanting ''China liar, we want freedom, stop killing in Tibet,'' the protesters were dragged away by police and taken to detention centers.

Hundreds of police have been guarding the building to stop the protests.

Tibetan exiles have been protesting almost daily in Nepal since March 10 against China's crackdown in Tibet. Police have broken up almost all the protests, detaining demonstrators daily but freeing them by night.


Associated Press reporter Gavin Rabinowitz in New Delhi contributed to this report.






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