WASHINGTON, Aug. 28, 2003--Tibet's government in exile has denied a report by Radio Free Asia (RFA) that it requested a future visit to China by 10 senior members of the exiled Tibetan comunity. A spokesman for the exile government says a request for such a visit, conveyed to Chinese authorities last year, was strictly unofficial. China has rejected the proposed visit.

"The Tibetan Government in Exile has made no request to the Chinese government in this regard and has no involvement in the group's proposed visit," Thubten Samphel, spokesman for the exile government, said in a statement to RFA's Tibetan service. "This group of Tibetans intends to make a private visit... unrelated to the dialogue which was initiated between the Envoys of His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] and the Chinese government," he said.

The request was first proposed a year ago by Gyalo Dhondup, a brother of Tibet's spiritual leader in exile, the Dalai Lama. The proposed visit would aim to promote understanding and make contact with Tibetans living under Chinese rule, and Chinese authorities were widely expected to approve the visit.

Sources inside China who are familiar with the arrangements told RFA's Tibetan service that the central Chinese government had rejected the planned visit on grounds that some members of the proposed delegation had engaged in "splittist" or separatist activities. "They were afraid of a negative influence from the delegation," one source said.

The 10 Tibetans who had been expected to visit China were: Sonam Topgyal and Tenzen Namgyal Tenthong, former heads of the Tibetan exile cabinet in Dharamsala; Alak Jigme, auditor general of the Tibetan exile government; Pema Chinjor, former head of the Security Deparment of the Tibetan exile government; Rinchen Dharlo, former head of the Office of Tibet in New York and current head of the Tibet Fund in New York; Pema Gyalpo, former head of the Office of Tibet in Tokyo; Amdo Dhondup and Thinley Paljor from Nepal; Namgyal Tsering from Australia; and Gyurme (Eds: one name) from the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India.

Several members of the proposed delegation said in interviews that Gyalo Dhondup had urged them to make the proposed trip.

"Last year when Gyalo Dhondup returned from Tibet and China, he told me that it would be good if there were visits of private [Tibetan] delegations for enhancing contacts and better understanding," Sonam Topgyal said. "He also told me that it would be good if I could go as one of the members of such a delegation."

Rinchen Dharlo also said Gyalo Dhondup "mentioned to me the importance of developing contacts between Tibetans and the Chinese. A delegation may leave for China and Tibet. I was told that I am one of them."

Special envoys for the Dalai Lama have been permitted two visits to China and Tibet in the last two years. Gyalo Dhondup also visited the region on a month-long trip in 2002. Whether the denial of this visit might affect future visits by Tibetan envoys and Gyalo Dhondup was unclear.



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