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Dalai Lama Says Envoys May Return to China Soon
22 April 2004 - by David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Dalai Lama said on Thursday his special envoys could return to China within months to continue building contacts with Beijing but he said a political solution to the Tibet question was still far off.

The exiled spiritual leader, who has run a government-in-exile in India since fleeing Tibet after a failed uprising in 1959, also said Canada might be able to help bring both sides together.

Tibetan envoys visited China -- which views the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist -- almost a year ago as part of a contact-building process that began in 2002.

Asked when the envoys would return to China, the Dalai Lama told a news conference: "I'm not really sure. Perhaps, I think, within a few months. I think it's possible."

Analysts say the reestablishment of contacts between the two sides reflects a slight softening in Beijing's position as it mulls a political solution to the Tibet question.

"Up to now our main effort (has been) to build confidence because there are so many suspicions and doubts. So therefore it takes time, and the Tibet issue is a very complex issue," the Dalai Lama said.

"So we need a lot of discussions within an atmosphere of trust," he added, repeating his oft-stated view that he wants more autonomy for Tibet and not independence.

But he criticized China for paying more attention to construction projects than "deeper human values" since its troops occupied Tibet in 1950.

"So religious freedom is not there, freedom of thought is not there, freedom of speech is not there. There is no freedom of information, just a big house -- so that's our complaint. We in Tibet (have) a very unique cultural heritage and deep spirituality," he said.

The Dalai Lama, in Canada for a three-week tour, will meet Prime Minister Paul Martin and various Canadian religious leaders late on Friday despite protests from Beijing about the possible negative consequences of such meetings for Canada-China relations.

Government officials insist Martin will only discuss spiritual matters at the meeting but the Dalai Lama said he would talk about Tibet if anyone present showed any interest.

"I think like some of the European countries, Canada has good relations with China. And also I think...(Canada) is no threat to China. So therefore I think Canada is better positioned to influence our Chinese brothers and sisters," he told the news conference.

Chinese troops imposed Communist rule on Tibet in 1950 and the Dalai Lama fled nine years later after a failed uprising. China claims Tibet as part of its territory and accuses the religious leader of separatist activities.

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