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WASHINGTON, Aug. 21-A major Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Karmapa, is urging China to release the teacher and two personal attendants he left behind in Tibet in 1999, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.

"I appeal to the Chinese government and the Tibetan Autonomous Region government that those arrested may be released quickly, and that they may be spared harsh treatment while in prison," the Karmapa told RFA's Tibetan service. "I am greatly disappointed and also worried," he said. "I escaped to pursue my religious studies, and not to achieve political goals."

The Karmapa's personal attendants, Lama Thupten and Lama Panam, and his teacher, Lama Nyima, have been detained in recent months inside Tibet, according to sources in Tibet and Dharamsala who spoke on condition of anonymity. Lama Panam was detained in March in Tibet's Kham Prefecture, while Lama Thupten was arrested in January while trying to flee to India, the sources said. Lama Nyima was arrested in June, in Kongpo, they said.

The 17th Karmapa, born Ugyen Trinley Dorje and named head lama of Tsurphu Monastery near Lhasa, was enthroned with Beijing's blessing in 1992, when he was only seven years old. In a major embarrassment to the Chinese government, he fled Tibet in 1999 and arrived in Dharamsala, India, in January 2000--still in his teens.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader in exile, is "greatly concerned and offered extensive prayers," the Karmapa said.

"Lama Nyima had been my teacher and I am very grateful. Whatever I learned is from his teaching and guidance. Thupten was my cook and he was extremely devoted," he said.

Lama Nyima and Lama Thupten played critical roles in aiding the Karmapa in his escape to India, he said, and they alone knew of his plan in advance. Lama Nyima locked himself in the Karmapa's residence, pretending to be the Karmapa in retreat, while Thupten continued to cook for the Karmapa as if he were still there.

According to one source, Lama Nyima is detained in Kongpo and has staged a hunger strike in prison.

On orders from Mao Zedong, Chinese troops invaded and annexed Tibet in 1950 in what Beijing calls a "peaceful liberation" from feudalism. Chafing under Chinese rule, Tibetans staged an uprising in 1959. When it failed, the Dalai Lama and nearly 100,000 of his followers were forced to flee across the Himalayas to northern India and Nepal.

The Dalai Lama, born Tenzin Gyatso, won the 1989 Nobel Prize for Peace in recognition of his long-running, nonviolent opposition to Chinese rule.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) broadcasts news, information, and cultural programming to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia--giving them a voice as well as a means of connecting with the world and with one another.

Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo, and Kham), and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content.


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