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Tibetan Exiles Ponder Fate at India Conference

Tibetans from around the world are gathering in the Indian hill station of Dharamsala for their largest political conference in nearly 60 years. The Dalai Lama called the six-day meeting, which begins Monday, after failing to make progress in negotiations with China on the fate of Tibet. But the Tibetan spiritual leader will be notably absent. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.

For six days, 600 Tibetan exiles will try to chart the course of their peoples' future. Frustrated by decades of fruitless talks with the Chinese, who invaded Tibet in 1950, members of the community's government-in-exile and other prominent Tibetans will debate their options.

Officials in Beijing, which insist Tibet is an integral part of China, say those at the meeting will not represent the sentiment of the majority of Tibetans. The Chinese government accuses the Dalai Lama of cloaking aspirations for independence inside his moderate call for meaningful autonomy.

The speaker of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, Karma Chophel, tells VOA News his compatriots will look at fresh approaches towards China, but armed struggle is not an option.

"We are not talking about violence," he said. "We are talking about a settlement of the Tibetan issue. And for that, so far, His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] has been trying to reach a settlement through what is called the 'middle way' approach. But that has not produced any result. So now he has called upon the Tibetan public to discuss what further ways can be found."

Some younger Tibetans want an outright push for independence. Some of the disenchanted question the effectiveness of the long-standing pacifist approach. Such voices have escalated following rioting in Tibet in March. And the Dalai Lama, in recent months, has expressed a sense of failure.

Speaker Chophel says the revered spiritual leader will not try to sway his followers during the conference. "For the purpose of not influencing public opinion, he is avoiding the meeting," he said.

The latest round of negotiations this month in Beijing between the Chinese and Tibetan representatives failed yet again to make any progress. China considers the meeting in Dharamsala, home of the Tibetan government-in-exile for five decades, a meaningless exercise that will get the Tibetans nowhere. It is also reminding neighbor India to abide by its long-standing pledge not to allow on its soil activities Beijing says are aimed at splitting Chinese territory.

In a statement Friday the Dalai Lama said the special meeting has no specific agenda or pre-determined outcome. But he is calling for Tibetans to set aside their partisan differences to determine what he called "the best possible future course to advance the Tibetan cause."