Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Time running out for Tibet: French senators

Wed Aug 30, 1:52 AM ET Reuters

Time is running out to reach an agreement on Tibet's future which, if not sorted out by 2008, could become a blemish on the Beijing Olympics, a French parliamentary delegation said on Wednesday.

After meetings with Communist officials in Tibet, the group said they had the impression the authorities took a more "nuanced" tone toward the region's problems than the propaganda would suggest, but questions on Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, were rebuffed.

"There is one chance for Tibet and that's before the Olympics," Louis de Broissia, president of the French Senate's Information Commission on Tibet, told a Beijing news conference

after returning from the remote far-western Himalayan region.

"With so much international attention, the Tibet question could become a stain on the Olympics. After that, it's all over," he said.

De Broissia said it was possible a new generation of Tibetan leaders could espouse more violent forms of protest once the Dalai Lama dies.

The Dalai Lama, accused by Beijing of being a separatist, has lived in exile in the Indian hill station of Dharamsala since fleeing Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese Communist rule.

"The youth in exile are very impatient," he said. "It's in the interests of China to work fast and concretely."

The group was allowed only very limited contacts with people in Tibet other than officials, de Broissia said.

When they asked about the Dalai Lama, officials responded with questions about unrest among young Muslims in France, or the problem of Corsican separatists, he added.

"They told us the Dalai Lama was forgotten, discredited," the senator said. "We couldn't get anyone to really talk about the Dalai Lama. They would hide behind a disarming smile."

De Broissia said that despite their concerns about the destruction of traditional Tibetan buildings, the French delegation found it a positive sign that they had been invited at all and that the reaction to their visit surprised them.

The Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace laureate, is usually demonized in China's tightly controlled state-run press, although the government has maintained contacts with his envoys.

In July, an official Chinese newspaper commentary accused the Dalai Lama -- who has proposed a "Middle Way" policy, seeking autonomy but not independence for Tibet -- of collaborating with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Overseas rights activists have urged the International Olympic Committee to warn China that its right to host the 2008 Games could be revoked if it does not improve its human rights record.


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