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Tibetan Government-In-Exile Greatly Encouraged by Recent Contacts with China

The Tibetan government-in-exile says it is greatly encouraged by recent contacts with China's newly installed leadership.

The Dalai Lama's special envoys, Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen, returned earlier this week to India following a two-week visit to Shanghai, Beijing and parts of Tibet.

In the north Indian town of Dharamsala, where Tibet's government-in-exile is based, the assessment of the visit was upbeat. Government Spokesman Thubten Samphel says the envoys had an opportunity to understand the thinking of the new Chinese leadership.

"They were also very happy that the Chinese leaders they met were very open and very candid about the issues of concern to both parties, " he said.

The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, following a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He campaigned for decades for Tibetan independence, but in recent years has changed his goal, and now seeks only autonomy for Tibet within China.

For a decade, there was no contact at all between the Dalai Lama's government and the Chinese leadership. Links were renewed only in September last year, when the two envoys paid a visit to China.

Spokesman Thubten Samphel hopes the most recent visit will lead to negotiations with the Chinese leadership that will produce what he terms a "mutually acceptable solution" for the Tibetan people.

"Both sides agreed that our past relationship had many twists and turns, and that many areas of disagreement still exist. The need was felt for more efforts to overcome the existing problems, and bring about mutual understanding and trust," he said.

The two envoys said in a statement that they were impressed by the economic and social changes in the areas they visited. They say they emphasized to Chinese officials the importance of maintaining Tibet's religious and cultural identity.

In recent years, the Dalai Lama has expressed fears that Tibet's unique Buddhist culture is in danger of being swamped by a mass influx of ethnic Chinese, as well as by political and religious repression. He wants the Himalayan region turned into what he calls a demilitarized zone of peace.

Political analysts say the improved dialogue between the two sides is significant, especially as it comes while China's new leaders are making an effort to improve the country's international image on issues such as human rights.