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Tibetan exiles set Olympics date for homeward march

February 25, 2008

Times of India, India
24 Feb 2008

They have been living in exile for almost five decades. Now they are
planning to return to their homeland in an effort to reassert their
identity and ties.

As the countdown to the 2008 Olympics begins, Tibetan exiles and their
supporters all over the world have renewed their resolve to counter
China's stranglehold on Tibet. They are bracing for a "return march"
to Tibet, which is slated to begin on March 10 from Dharamshala.

With a 100-odd core participants and more joining in on the way in
batches, the group plans to reach the border and cross over into Tibet
in August, to coincide with the opening of 2008 Olympics in Beijing,
in order to attract the attention of the international media present
there to cover the sports event. "Our message to the Chinese
leadership is loud and clear - that after 50 years, Tibetans in exile
are determined to return to their homeland," said Ngawang Woeber,
president of the Gu Chu Sum, the ex-political prisoners' association.

Poet and activist Tenzin Tsundue, who has been spearheading various
efforts in the fight for a free Tibet, says it's too early to decide
the exact point on the 4,000 km-long Indo-Tibetan border for the
cross-over, if at all. "The last time I went to Tibet in 1997, I was
arrested by the Chinese authorities, beaten up, interrogated, starved
and finally thrown out of Tibet after being in their jail for three
months in Lhasa. But this time, I am not alone."

Asked if they had taken permission from the Dalai Lama for the march,
he says, "Since it will be a peaceful march, inspired by Gandhi's salt
march, I do not think anyone - either Indian authorities or Chinese -
would impose themselves on us."

Other activists of the group say they will not be seeking the approval
of the Dalai Lama, as he has a more moderate position and is okay with
Tibet getting partial autonomy rather than complete independence.
Officials in the Dalai Lama's office say they are aware of the march
but the government-in-exile neither plans to participate nor disrupt
the initiative.

B Tsering, spokesperson of the Tibetan Women's Association, says, "We
stand at a historic point as two important events approach - the
Olympics and the 50th commemoration of the March 10 uprising against
China's occupation of Tibet. We need to take this opportunity and give
impetus to our freedom movement."

Choeying of Students for a Free Tibet says: "China will use the
Olympics to legitimise its colonisation of Tibet. It will parade the
Tibetans in colourful costumes along with the people from other
occupied countries like Mongolia and the Islamic East Turkistan
(Xinjiang) to show 'unity' in China. We want to participate as an
independent nation."

The march is a part of the Tibetan People's Uprising Movement, a
united effort by five groups: Tibetan Youth Congress, Tibetan Women's
Association, Gu-Chu-Sum Movement of Tibet, National Democratic Party
of Tibet and Students for a Free Tibet, India.

Tibetans have been taking special exception to the Beijing Olympics.
In August last year, they held a friendly football match between
Delhi-XI and Team Tibet, although they had to shift the venue after
cops refused permission for the event to held at Jawaharlal Nehru
Stadium in Delhi.
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