Dalai Lama's India-based representatives report progress after visit to China

AP, Feb 26, 2006

Dharmsala, India -- Tibetan and Chinese officials met this month in southern China and, while fundamental differences persist, there is a growing understanding between the two sides, the Dalai Lama's special envoy said.

Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, representative for the Tibetan spiritual leader who has lived in exile in India for nearly 50 years, said he led a four-man team in their Feb. 15-23 trip.

The Dalai Lama's envoys have attended four rounds of talks with China since 2002. Specific details of those discussions have not been released, but they are believed to have focused on the Dalai Lama's demands for more autonomy for Tibet to protect its unique Buddhist culture.

``Today there is a better and deeper understanding of each other's position and the fundamental differences that continue to exist in the positions held by the two parties,'' Gyari said in a statement released late Saturday.

China has claimed Tibet as part of its territory for centuries, and it's forces occupied the region in 1950. Branded a separatist, the Dalai Lama fled to the north Indian city of Dharmsala in 1959 where he formed a government-in-exile. He has repeatedly said he wants autonomy, not independence, for Tibet.

``This round of discussion also made it clear that there is a major difference even in the approach in addressing the issue. However, we remain committed to the dialogue process and are hopeful that progress will be possible,'' Gyari said.

``Our Chinese counterparts made clear their interest in continuing the present process and their firm belief that the obstacles can be overcome through more discussions and engagements,'' he said in the statement.

On Feb. 16, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, refused to confirm any talks between the Tibetan delegation and Chinese officials, but to say they were visiting in a ``private capacity.''

Gyari said he met with Chinese Communist Party officials in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and that the Tibetans also visited Guangdong and Guangxi provinces.