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Dispute Threatens Support for Tibetan Exiles in US Congress

In this March 20, 2011 file photo, newly-elected Tibetan prime minister Lobsang Sangay talks to the Associated Press with a Tibetan flag in the background in Dharmsala, India.
A dispute between Tibet's prime minister-in-exile and one of his movement's leading American supporters threatens to undermine U.S. political support for the Tibetan exile cause.

In a letter to Lobsang Sangay this week, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher accused the India-based exile leader of trying to manipulate news coverage of his organization through actions that resulted in the recent firing of Jigme Ngapo, the longtime chief of the Tibetan-language service of Radio Free Asia. RFA denies the firing was related to politics.

Rohrabacher, who in 2007 pressed for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics over China's treatment of Tibet, also said he is "aware of serious accusations that U.S. funding meant for Tibetans may have been misspent." He threatened action if U.S. money went into the pockets of "Communist Chinese and Tibetan power brokers."

The California lawmaker warned that the actions of Sangay and other Tibetan leaders "are undermining support within the U.S. Congress for the Tibetan cause."

Sangay responded in a press release Wednesday, saying his Central Tibetan Administration "takes great pride in maintaining fiscal integrity and transparency" and insisted that every dollar it spends is properly accounted for.

The exile leader stated categorically that he had "nothing to do with developments between RFA management and Jigme Ngapo." He endorsed RFA broadcasting, saying its Tibetan service "was established to provide truthful and objective service to Tibetans particularly to listeners in Tibet deprived of unbiased and timely news and information."

Rohrabacher suggested in a press release that Ngapo irked the Tibetan government-in-exile by encouraging open discussion about various options for Tibet's future, including outright independence. The Dalai Lama and his Tibetan followers, hoping for an eventual accommodation with China, speak only of autonomy.

In a statement released to VOA, RFA said all of its management decisions are based on how it can best produce high quality, objective programming.

"Speculation that Ngapo’s employment was terminated for political reasons is categorically untrue," it said. "Additionally, reports that Ngapo was escorted from the building by police or security personnel are false.”