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Dalai Lama asks Chinese president to allow Tibet envoys, EU urges debate
AFP[Thursday, April 24, 2008 09:26]
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Dalai Lama has written a letter to China's President Hu Jintao offering to send emissaries to Tibet to calm down tensions following Beijing's crackdown, his special envoy said Wednesday.

"His Holiness expressed his deepest concerns about the situation (in Tibet) and offered to send his emissaries to help calm the situation and explain to Tibetans," envoy Lodi Gyari told reporters in Washington.

The letter, sent on March 19, was part of efforts "to begin a discussion on a peaceful way forward" following the Chinese crackdown on pro-Tibetan protests, said Gyari, who had testified earlier at a US Senate hearing on the turmoil in Tibet.

Beijing has not specifically responded to the Dalai Lama's offer, he said, although it had replied to the letter with "nothing concrete, just rhetoric."

Some media reports suggesting that the Dalai Lama's side was in discussions with the Chinese government was "an overstatement of fact," he said.

The 72-year-old Dalai Lama, who has lived in northern India since fleeing Tibet after a failed uprising in 1959, is campaigning for "meaningful autonomy" for his homeland.

Exiled Tibetan leaders say China's clampdown last month left more than 150 dead, while Beijing says "rioters" killed 20.

The incident has overshadowed China's hosting of the Beijing Olympics in August, with protests marring international legs of the ceremonial torch relay.

Gyari, who has led the Dalai Lama's side to six rounds of dialogue with Beijing to resolve the Tibet question, said he had used "existing channels of communication with Chinese officials to convey our urgent concerns.

"What I have been hearing back is nothing but the usual rhetoric," he said.

The United States meanwhile warned China that failure to hold a dialogue now with the Dalai Lama in a bid to end the crisis could harden the position of moderate pro-Tibetan groups.

"If Beijing does not engage with the Dalai Lama now, it will only serve to strengthen those who advocate extreme views," Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told the Senate hearing, in which popular movie star Richard Gere, a persistent advocate for human rights in Tibet, also testified.

"Public villification of the Dalai Lama will not defuse the situation," Negroponte said.

Beijing, which considers Tibet as an autonomous province within China, calls the saffron-robed Dalai Lama a "wolf in monk's clothing" and brands him a separatist.

Following Beijing's crackdown, prominent radical Tibetan exiles have demanded a review of the Dalai Lama's non-violent campaign for autonomy within China. Some are now crying for independence.

Negroponte said there was no better person for authorities in China to talk to than the Dalai Lama since he was the undisputed spiritual leader of the Tibetan people.

"He is also a man of peace," he said. "The Chinese government should seize the opportunity to talk to those Tibetans, represented by the Dalai Lama, who oppose violence and do not seek independence for Tibet."

News of the Dalai Lama's attempts to communicate with China come as EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner urged China on Thursday to engage in dialogue with the Tibetan exiled leader. Talks could bring about "concrete improvement" he said.

An EU delegation including European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso is due in China later Thursday and Friday amid tension over Beijing's handling of unrest in the predominantly Buddhist region of Tibet.

Tibet will be "high on the agenda," Ferrero-Waldner told reporters in Tokyo before leaving for Beijing.
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