Tibet's government-in-exile has described as provocative a ban by the Chinese government on portraits of the Dalai Lama in two Tibetan areas in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan, RFA's Tibetan service reports.

Tibetans in Lithang and Karze have been warned they would lose their land unless they surrendered portraits of their spiritual leader by a mid-December deadline, according to the government-in-exile, based in Dharamsala, India.

"Since His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the political and religious leader of six million Tibetans, it is very important to keep and display photos of His Holiness to show respect and devotion," spokesman Sonam Norbu Dakpo told RFA in an interview.

"We believe that such restrictions are aimed at provoking Tibetans to violent acts for the Chinese to suppress."

He said the ban aimed to deprive Tibetans of their right to practice the religion of their choice, which is enshrined in the Chinese constitution.

"There were also reports of the confiscation of land if photos of Dalai Lama are not surrendered by [the] deadline," he added.

"This is a serious situation for local Tibetans whose livelihood and survival is dependent on land and livestock. The exile government would like to request that the Chinese government withdraw such restrictions."

A local government official in Ganzi was quoted by Agence France-Presse as confirming the ban. "This order has been in existence for years," the agency quoted an official surnamed Li at the Ganzi Religious Affairs Administration as saying.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet for India in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in Lhasa.

China regularly accuses the 68-year-old monk of being a "splittist" and objects to his meetings with world leaders.

The Dalai Lama is scheduled to meet this week in Rome with Pope John Paul II and address a conference alongside fellow Nobel peace laureate Mikhail Gorbachev.#####


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