November 16, 2008 / 4:32 PM / 10 years ago

Dalai Lama's envoys say Tibet at crossroads

DHARAMSALA, India, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Tibetans voiced frustration on Sunday at a lack of progress in autonomy talks with China, on the eve of a meeting of exiles that could challenge the Dalai Lama’s moderate line towards Beijing.

“We have told the Chinese very clearly this time that we have now reached the crossroads,” said Lodi Gyari, a special envoy for the exiled spiritual leader.

Gyari took part in talks in Beijing from Oct. 31 to Nov. 5 at which China rejected a long-standing demand for autonomy.

“As far as our task is concerned, it has certainly come to a crucial stage. We did not even talk about future meetings,” Gyari said at a briefing in Dharamsala, the north Indian hill station that is the seat of the Dalai Lama’s exiled government.

Gyari declined to be drawn on the options now available to the Tibetan side. But many exiles are frustrated at the lack of progress, despite several rounds of talks with China, and favour more radical demands going beyond the Dalai Lama’s talk of autonomy.

Hundreds of exiles will consider the way forward at talks beginning on Monday in Dharamsala and due to run until Nov. 22, which could pose a political challenge to the 73-year-old Nobel Peace laureate.

SUCCESSION TALK

The Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in 1959 after a failed uprising, recently hinted his “middle way” for Tibet had failed, and speculation has grown he wants to step back from day-to-day political leadership.

After being hospitalised with abdominal pain in August and undergoing gallstone surgery last month, he is not attending the meeting in Dharamsala. Some Tibetan activists say he is laying the ground for a possible successor.

At the latest talks in Beijing, the Tibetans presented a “memorandum on genuine autonomy” — released to reporters on Sunday — which stressed their right to create their own regional government and to be represented in decision-making in the Chinese government.

It also called for protecting the culture and identity of minority nationalities in Tibet, and preserving the environment.

But Gyari said China was unyielding and the Tibetans were disappointed by the “total lack of willingness to seriously reciprocate our sincere and serious efforts”.

“Our biggest disappointment, and the only reason why His Holiness (Dalai Lama) in the recent past had to publicly express his own despair, is the situation on the ground, the situation inside Tibet,” Gyari said.

The Dalai Lama and other critics of China’s rule say it stifles religious and cultural freedom and promotes development that skews wealth and opportunities away from poor Tibetans while encouraging influxes of Chinese labour from other parts.

Chinese officials last week said while the door to Tibetan independence or semi-independence would never open, the door to talks was always open.

Gyari rejected the notion.

“(The) so-called very wide open door is locked as hard as a horn,” he said, referring to an old Tibetan saying. “The door is so closely shut we did not even ask for the next round.” (Writing by Rina Chandran; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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