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India Bars Foreign Media from Border State During Dalai Lama Visit


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India's government is prohibiting foreign media personnel from covering the Dalai Lama's visit to a border monastery.

India's central government has informed foreign correspondents they will not be permitted to enter the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh while the Dalai Lama is there. The Tibetan spiritual leader begins a five-day visit to a border-area monastery in the state on Sunday.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia issued a statement Thursday expressing its disappointment with the Indian government's travel restrictions.

Club president Heather Timmons, of the New York Times, says the central government did not issue any permits for journalists to visit Arunachal Pradesh for the Dalai Lama's visit, but the state government had granted permission.

"Today we were surprised and very disappointed to learn that permits that were issued by the state government to travel to the state during the visit have been canceled by the central government," she said.

A number of reporters for American, British and other international media, including the Voice of America, intended to cover the visit in the remote region.

The travel restrictions apparently do not apply to Indian journalists.

India's Home Affairs Ministry said the decision on which of the foreign correspondents could travel to Arunachal Pradesh was up to the External Affairs Ministry.

Timmons, on behalf of the foreign media, met with Ministry of External Affairs officials who told her they were doing "everything they possibly could" regarding the travel requests.

She calls the response "mystifying", noting the ministry cleared 200 visas for foreign journalists within 48 hours when Mumbai came under a terrorist attack a year ago.

"So it is not as if they do not have the manpower nor have they been closed to foreign journalist before," she added.

The information department secretary of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Thubten Samphel, told VOA News he was "sorry to hear" about the travel ban on the correspondents, but declined further comment.

China has accused the Dalai Lama of damaging Beijing's relations with New Delhi by planning the Tawang visit. Recently in Japan, the Tibetan spiritual leader denied any political motivations for the visit, which he said will be devoted to religious teaching. The Dalai Lama canceled a planned trip to the monastery last year.

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The sprawling religious complex, at an altitude of 3,300 meters, is one of Asia's largest Buddhist religious sites. It was originally built in the late 17th century when the area was part of Tibet and is currently home to hundreds of monks.

China claims Tawang and nearly all of Arunachal Pradesh, which India made a state in 1972. The state shares an unfenced 1,000-kilometer long border with China. The border was set by the British at a 1914 conference with the Chinese and Tibetan governments.

China annexed Tibet eight years after a 1951 invasion by the Peoples Liberation Army. It was through Tawang that the Dalai Lama fled China in 1959.

India's domestic media this year have given prominent play to Chinese incursions across the disputed border, which the government here has sought to portray as minor incidents.

On the sidelines of last month's ASEAN summit, the leaders of India and China agreed they would "gradually narrow their differences on border issues."

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