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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Tibetans debate call for full independence from China

November 19, 2008

Jeremy Page, South Asia Correspondent
The Times (UK)
November 17, 2008

Exiled Tibetan leaders began an unprecedented week-long conference
today to discuss whether to stick to the Dalai Lama's non-violent
quest for autonomy within China or re-launch a drive for outright independence.

More than 600 Tibetans from around the world are attending the
meeting in Dharamsala, the north Indian hill station where the Dalai
Lama set up his government-in-exile after fleeing Tibet in 1959.

The Dalai Lama called the meeting last month after stunning his
followers by saying he had "given up" on his attempts, launched 20
years ago, to negotiate a "middle way" with China by asking for
autonomy within its borders.

He said he wanted an open discussion about the future of the Tibetan
movement in the light of the violent anti-China protests and riots
that erupted across Tibet in March and the uncompromising Chinese response.

The only issue not up for negotiation is his policy of non-violence,
according to his aides.

"I don't know what will happen," the Dalai Lama said earlier this
month, as the latest round of talks between his envoys and Chinese
officials ended in failure.

"Their minds should be open to explore all different options."

Insiders say the debate will reflect the growing frustration and
tension within the exiled Tibetan community, which numbers about
200,000 and is mostly based in India and Nepal, with a small number
in North America and Europe.

The government-in-exile, older Tibetans and new arrivals from Tibet
tend to be more conservative and pragmatic and to defer to the Dalai
Lama, traditionally Tibet's political and religious leader.

However, younger Tibetans born in exile are increasingly drawn to
radical groups such as the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), which
advocates independence and reserves the right to use violence.

They were especially frustrated by the Dalai Lama's refusal to call
for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics or to endorse the anti-Chinese riots.

Tsewang Rigzin, 37, the president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, who
was born in India and lived for 15 years in the United States, said:
"We have nothing to lose. If you look at all the history of the
world, all the nations that won independence started out with one
united goal. We don't have that.

"Once we have it, we can talk about how to get there."

He declined to give details of the proposals he will make at the
meeting, but some Tibetan radicals have suggested using more
aggressive tactics such as attacking Chinese infrastructure within Tibet.

The Tibetan Youth Congress has about 30,000 Tibetan members. Other
groups, such as Students For A Free Tibet, which also boasts 30,000
Tibetan and foreign members, want to resume the independence
struggle, but without using violence.

Support for the pro-independence lobby appears to have grown over the
past decade, and especially since this year's violence in Tibet, but
it is unclear by how much, as no professional polling has been done.

The pro-independence lobby is also likely to be in a minority at the
meeting as more than half the attendees are officials from the
government-in-exile, which is wary of renouncing the "middle way"
without a viable alternative.

Robbie Barnett, a Tibet expert at Columbia University in New York,
said: "They are under huge pressure, as they see the pro-independence
people as having no strategy and no sense of realism. They're accused
of protecting their own interests, but they have a fair argument."

The conference will also be attended by former ministers, current and
former members of the parliament-in-exile, NGOs, monks, and
representatives of the Tibetan diaspora.

They will be divided into 15 groups, each of which will discuss the
future of the Tibetan movement before pooling their thoughts and
issuing a resolution on Saturday.

The resolution is non-binding, but will be closely watched by China
and is expected to set the tone for the Tibetan movement over the
next few years.

Participants say they do not expect to make a clear choice between
the "middle way" or independence, although they could decide to hold
a referendum on the question.

The most likely outcome, however, is a statement of support for the
Dalai Lama, to counter China's efforts to portray him as a hardline
separatist who does not represent the Tibetan majority.
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