Dalai Lama representatives head to China for talks over Tibet

Negotiations: The Dalai Lama

Negotiations: The Dalai Lama

Representatives of the Dalai Lama said Monday that they will sit down for talks with Chinese officials, as international pressure builds for the two sides to ease tensions following anti-government riots that rocked Tibet.

The prime minister of the self-proclaimed Tibetan government in exile confirmed that envoys Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen would hold the two days of talks in Beijing starting Tuesday.

"The envoys will arrive in Beijing today. This will be the continuation of the formal dialogue which started in 2002," said Samdhong Rinpoche.

The meetings follow informal talks held in early May in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen that ended with an offer from Beijing for future discussions.

"His holiness the Dalai Lama has instructed the envoys to make every effort to bring about tangible progress to alleviate the difficult situation for Tibetans in their homeland," a statement from the Dalai Lama's office said.

China said an invitation had been extended to the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, but gave no other details.

"Our door is always open for dialogue with the Dalai Lama. (We) hope that the Dalai Lama would treasure this opportunity and give a positive response to the requirements of the central authorities," an unnamed government official was quoted as saying by Xinhua in a two-sentence statement.

Pressure has been growing on both sides to improve relations in the wake of the riots and protests that hit the Tibetan capital of Lhasa and other areas of China with Tibetan populations in March.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who ended two days of talks in China on Monday, said she was encouraged by the new round of talks and urged China to sincerely engage the Dalai Lama.

"We think he's a very positive figure in dealing with the very difficult issue of Tibet," Rice said.

Enlarge   Dalai Lama

Guard: Chinese paramilitary policemen stand guard the spectators attend the ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games torch relay in front of the Norbulingka, the former summer residence of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in Lhasa, Tibet

The news department of the State Council, China's Cabinet, did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment. A man surnamed Gao in the propaganda office of the United Front Work Department, which will host the talks, said he did not have details.

China has been accused of using heavy-handed tactics in quelling the anti-government riots and protests in Tibet.

Beijing says 22 people died in the recent anti-government violence in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, while foreign Tibet supporters say many times that number were killed in the protests and a subsequent crackdown.

Some experts believe Beijing is agreeing to a fresh round of discussions to ease international pressure and criticism ahead of the Olympic Games that begin Aug. 8 in China.

"There is some concern for China to maintain a good profile internationally before the Olympics so that must be part of the issue," said Robbie Barnett, an expert in modern Tibet at Columbia University.

"It's also very clear inside Tibet that many Tibetans put a great weight on news of these talks and there's some evidence that people inside Tibet will be generally reluctant to stage protests when there is still hope in this process," he said.

China has governed Tibet with an iron fist since communist troops marched into the Himalayan region in the 1950s.

The Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid a failed uprising in 1959, has said he wants some form of autonomy that would allow Tibetans to freely practice their culture, language and religion. But Beijing has labeled him a "splittist" intent on seizing independence, and it continues to vilify him.

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