Tibetan monks lead prayers outside the Tsuglakhang temple to mark the 16th birthday of the Panchen Lama, the second highest ranking spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism, at Dharmsala, India, Monday April 25, 2005. Tibetans have been campaigning for the release of the Panchen Lama, whose whereabouts are unknown since his abduction by China in 1995. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)
Dharamsala, April 25 - Hundreds of Tibetan monks living here, on Monday, held a prayer ceremony to mark the 16th birthday of Panchem Lama, their second highest religious leader.
The Panchen Lama, who turned 16, was chosen by Tibet's exiled leader, the Dalai Lama in 1995, but disappeared soon afterwards and has not been seen in public. The Tibetans believe that Panchem Lama, the young boy, is being held as a political prisoner by China, which had invaded the remote Himalayan region in 1950.
"We hope that Panchen Lama will be released as soon as possible. International high commission, human rights centres, child rights centres and other organisations are all supporting the release of the Lama as well as the Tibetan cause," said Chemey Yungdrung, a Buddhist monk.
China has promoted its own candidate for the post, called as the "Beijing Lama", considered by most Tibetans as an impostor.
Last year, the European Union also called for independent access to the Panchen Lama and criticised China for its tight control over Tibet. China denies human rights abuses in Tibet, and says that Beijing's rule has brought about a big rise in living standards there.
Thousands of Tibetans, including their spiritual leader Dalai Lama, fled their homeland after Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950. About 130,000 Tibetan refugees are now settled in different parts of India with the Dalai Lama establishing his headquarters in Dharamsala.