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Senior Tibet Official Optimistic About Negotiations with China

A senior Tibetan official has said China should open talks by next June on the future status of Tibet or face the risk of a popular rebellion.

Samdhong Rinpoche is chief of the Tibetan cabinet, known as the Kashag, and elected leader of the exiled government headquartered in Dharamsala, India. He is the second-ranking Tibetan official, after the Dalai Lama.

He told reporters he is optimistic about the chances of negotiations on Tibet's status with Hu Jintao, who took over China's ruling Communist Party last week. Mr. Rinpoche wants the talks to begin by the middle of next year.

"The Tibet issue needs to be resolved as early as possible. Otherwise it may go out of our hand. So therefore I appeal to our people and our supporters to keep a low profile and restrain from provocative things at least until June 2003," he said.

Mr. Rinpoche said that if negotiations are not under way by that time, the younger people in Tibet might revolt. "The younger generation of Tibetans living inside Tibet, as well as outside, they are very patriotic and they are not satisfied with the present situation in Tibet. And the younger generation has less patience than the older ones. So therefore we fear that the Tibetan leadership may not be able to satisfy the people," he said.

Mr. Rinpoche said he is keeping an open mind about the new leader of China's Communist party. He said that in the 1980s, Mr. Hu was the most unpopular official that Beijing ever sent to Tibet, and he imposed one year of martial law there in 1987.

But Mr. Rinpoche said some commentators believe that because of his experience, Mr. Hu knows the Tibetan question can only be settled through dialogue, not force.

Mr. Rinpoche said the goal of the government-in-exile is to win autonomy for Tibet within China, a status similar to Hong Kong's.

Mr. Rinpoche is in London to meet members of parliament and civil society who have an interest in Tibetan affairs.