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Tibetan Envoy Calls Talks With China a 'Good First Step'

An envoy of the Dalai Lama says talks between Chinese officials and representatives from the Tibetan government-in-exile were a "good first step." The talks in southern China followed international pressure on Beijing to open discussions after weeks of unrest in Tibet. Naomi Martig reports from Hong Kong.

Following the one-day talks in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, special envoy Lodi Gyari confirmed that a second round of talks will be held between Tibetan and Chinese officials.

"We had a very candid discussion," said Gyari.

Lodi Gyari was speaking at Hong Kong's international airport, where he and another Tibetan envoy were preparing to return to Dharmsala, India, the home of the exiled Dalai Lama.

A date for the next round of talks was not set, but Lodi Gyari says talks with Chinese negotiators went as planned. State-run media are reporting that Chinese officials told the Dalai Lama's envoys that recent protests had created new obstacles to communication.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry official on Tuesday told journalists that the Beijing government was sincere in wanting to pursue talks with the Dalai Lama's representatives. But the official said, the Tibetan exiles must show sincerity also, if talks are to continue.

The talks were the first meeting between the two sides in more than a year, and came less than two months after anti-Chinese protests in Tibet. The Beijing government says 23 people died in the riots, but exile groups and human rights organizations say the death toll from the subsequent government crackdown is much higher. The casualty figures cannot be independently verified.

China's government accuses the Tibetan spiritual leader of inciting the violence, a charge the Dalai Lama has denied.

Barry Sautman, an associate professor of social science at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, says the talks are useful because it forces both sides to sift through sensitive issues.

"The Tibet question is going to eventually have to be settled by some compromise solution short of China falling apart," he said.

The Dalai Lama's representatives and officials from China have met numerous times in recent years, but with no improvement in relations. Sautman says that although the issue is decades old, the two sides have the ability to improve the situation because the violence is not severe.

"In Tibet by and large, most of the demonstrations that occurred recently were peaceful demonstrations, although a few of them especially the one in Lhasa was violent. But there aren't any guerrilla organizations, for example, operating in Tibet," said Sautman. "And by and large there haven't been many bombs that have been set off either in Tibet or China proper. And the two communities contrary to popular opinion don't necessarily hate each other."

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. China claims Tibet as its territory, but many Tibetans say Beijing is trying to suppress their traditions and culture.

China has accused the Dalai Lama of trying to split the country. The Dalai Lama, however, says he is only calling for Tibetan autonomy, and not independence.