China says immolations will not change Tibet policy

BEIJING Fri Dec 30, 2011 3:41pm IST

ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH Tibetan Buddhist nun Palden Choetso burns on the street in Daofu, or Tawu in Tibetan, in this still image taken from video shot on November 3, 2011 and released to Reuters on November 22. REUTERS/Students For A Free Tibet via Reuters TV/Files

ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH Tibetan Buddhist nun Palden Choetso burns on the street in Daofu, or Tawu in Tibetan, in this still image taken from video shot on November 3, 2011 and released to Reuters on November 22.

Credit: Reuters/Students For A Free Tibet via Reuters TV/Files

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BEIJING (Reuters) - A spate of self-immolations by ethnic Tibetans in China over the past few months in protest at government controls will never succeed in forcing any policy changes, a senior Chinese official was quoted as saying in remarks published on Friday.

Twelve Tibetans have set themselves on fire so far this year, all but one in a heavily Tibetan part of the southwestern province of Sichuan, which is historically part of Tibet. At least six of the protesters have died.

Zhu Weiqun, a vice minister of the Chinese Communist Party's United Front Work Department -- which has led unsuccessful on-off talks with the Dalai Lama's envoys -- said there were "divisions" in the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader's camp.

"I can honestly say to our friends that even if such a thing happens again, the direction of the Chinese government's policies in Tibet and our attitude toward the Dalai clique's struggle will not change in any way," Zhu said in comments carried on government website tibet.cn.

The Dalai Lama's supporters had "deceived several naive and young people to self-immolate in order to pressure the Chinese government", Zhu said.

"Any political group that has to resort to the step of deceiving its own people to burn themselves in order to maintain its own livelihood, can this type of group last?"

Zhu's remarks were included in a transcript of a meeting between him and European officials and academics in Brussels earlier this month.

China's Foreign Ministry has branded the self-immolators "terrorists" and has said the Dalai Lama, whom it condemns as a supporter of violent separatism, should take the blame for the "immoral" burnings.

The Dalai Lama, revered by Tibetans, has not condemned or condoned the burnings but said the desperate conditions Tibetans face under Beijing's rigid controls in what amounted to "cultural genocide" have led to the spate of self-immolations.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning monk, who fled into exile in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, has repeatedly denied advocating violence and insists he wants only real autonomy for his homeland rather than independence.

IRON FIST

China has ruled what it calls the Tibet Autonomous Region with an iron fist since Communist troops marched in in 1950.

While other Tibetan parts of China, such as Sichuan, have generally been ruled with a lighter touch, there have been frequent bouts of unrest there, too.

China says its rule has bought much-needed development to a remote region. Exiles and rights groups say China has trampled on religious and cultural freedoms. Visits by foreign reporters and diplomats are rare and tightly controlled.

Zhu, whose department oversees the Party's dealings with religious organisations, said China would never permit any kind of independent probe into claims of rights abuses in Tibet.

"To be honest, I have never believed a foreign force can arrive in any single country and point fingers to solve any problem, to bring any benefit to the country's citizens. Instead (it) will only intensify confusion and even struggles."

He also repeated that China would never talk to the Tibetan exiled government based in India or its new prime minister, Lobsang Sangay, because it was an organisation that "lacked legality".

There have been no talks between China and the Dalai Lama's representatives since early 2010.

Zhu blamed the "interference" of the new head of the government-in-exile for the failure of talks to restart.

"The Dalai Lama's rigid and unreasonable attitude is another factor as to why, at present, the talks have not been able to make any progress or even able to restart," he said.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Paul Tait)

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