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KATHMANDU�China has approved an unofficial visit by five delegates close to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, by early July, RFA�s Tibetan service reports.

�The Chinese government okayed a visit of a five-member delegation to go to China and Tibet� in late June or early July, delegation leader and former head of the exile Tibetan cabinet Kalon Sonam Topgyal said in an interview.

RFA's Tibetan service has also learned that a second delegation including the Dalai Lama's special envoy, Lodi Gyari, will visit China in October. According to sources who asked not to be named, this second group will also include the head of the Dalai Lama's office in Taiwan, Tsekyam, who speaks fluent Mandarin.

�Last year there was talk of a 10-member delegation, but the issue became silent for some time. Only recently, the Chinese officials explained that it is very complicated and difficult to make arrangements for a group of 10 members. Therefore, it would be okay if a group of five visits China and Tibet,� he said.

The visit, which is being coordinated with the Chinese authorities by Gyalo Dhondup, the Dalai Lama�s elder brother, is likely to occur in late June or early July. It follows a gap of several months in negotiations for a visit by a 10-member Tibetan delegation, which were initiated by the Tibetans last September.

While the Dalai Lama�s envoys visited China twice in 2003, Beijing was angered by several high-profile overseas visits by the Dalai Lama later in the year�including the United States, where he met President George W. Bush and other senior officials in September.

Beijing lodged an official protest at the visit and called on the United States to keep its promise to acknowledge Tibet as a part of China and not to support Tibetan independence.

The delegation comprises: Alak Jigme Rinpoche, auditor general of the Tibetan government-in-exile; Dakpa Namgyal, staff of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archive in Dharamsala and a former member of the exile Tibetan Parliament; Amdo Thondup; and Thinley Paljor from Nepal.

�The main objective of the visit is to create an environment conducive to dialogue in accordance with the wishes of His Holiness the Dalai Lama,� Kalon Sonam Topgyal said. �To do that we are to meet and talk with as many of the old Tibetan government officials, and Chinese as possible.�

However, he said that the exact details and itinerary had yet to be confirmed with Beijing.

�At present, we cannot say for definite the places that we would visit. However, it would be our wish to visit as many places as possible. It is our wish to visit the home regions of the members of the delegation. But it is difficult to say which places we will be able to visit,� he said.

Both Washington and the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile since 1959, say they do not favor Tibetan independence but greater autonomy for the Tibetan people.

The Dalai Lama, during his recent visits overseas, has expressed strong concerns about the �cultural genocide� he sees occurring in his homeland.

Beijing has criticized what it calls his attempts to use other countries as a base to carry out splittist activities.

The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his non-violent campaign for �genuine autonomy� in Tibet. #####


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