LHASA - The Beijing-backed 11th Panchen Lama was in Lhasa on his third visit to the Himalayan capital since his disputed selection as a leading Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader by the atheist Chinese communist government in 1995.
"The Panchen Lama is staying at the palace," a Tibetan named Ceren Baiji at the Xuelin Doji Pozhang Palace told AFP Saturday.
"The Panchen Lama came yesterday, we don't know the details of his schedule."
It was not clear if the disputed spiritual leader will attend the traditional Yoghurt Festival in Lhasa on August 18, or visit his monastery in Shigatze, she said.
According to the Tibet Daily, the Panchen Lama, Tibet's second highest spiritual leader after the Dalai Lama, had met with high ranking Tibetan government and Communist Party officials on Friday.
The 15-year old once known as Gyaincain Norbu was selected as the reincarnated soul boy of the 10th Panchen Lama by Beijing in 1995, in a disputed selection process that ignored the choice of the exiled Dalai Lama, who has traditionally played a central role in selection of reincarnated Lamas.
Beijing views the Dalai Lama as a separatist aimed at splitting Tibet from China and has refused to acknowledge his role as Tibet's most highly revered spiritual figure.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet following an aborted 1959 coup against Chinese rule in the Himalayan region.
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the soul boy selected by the Dalai Lama disappeared from public view in 1995 and is believed to have been under a form of house arrest ever since.
The Beijing-backed Panchen Lama has rarely appeared in public and has largely received his Buddhist education in Beijing, where he has also undergone political education by the government.
He last visited Lhasa in June 2002, when he also made a brief visit to the Tashilunpo Monastery in Shigatze, the traditional seat of the long line of Panchen Lamas, where he addressed the monks in a tightly controlled ceremony.
Many devoted Tibetan Buddhists question the identity of the Beijing-backed Panchen, but with Beijing's strict controls over religion open expressions of opposition over the reincarnation selection process have ended in the jailing of scores of Buddhist monks.
If the 15-year old Panchen Lama is allowed to publicly attend the Yoghurt Festival, it would likely be under intense security with little chance of interaction with ordinary Tibetan Buddhists, analysts here said.