Tibetan monks leery of China-backed lama's visit

AP News
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Posted: Aug 12, 2011 10:01 AM
Tibetan monks leery of China-backed lama's visit

An expected visit by a Chinese-appointed Tibetan Buddhist leader to a prominent monastery has raised new fears of repression among monks loyal to another person named by the Dalai Lama, overseas activists say.

The anticipated trip by a Beijing-chosen Panchen Lama to the Labrang Monastery in the northwest is seen as an attempt by China to boost his credibility among Tibetans over the original boy selected by the Dalai Lama. That child disappeared at age 6.

The Panchen Lama is the second-highest religious leader for Tibetans after the Dalai Lama, and traditionally has a role in both the identification and education of any new Dalai Lama after the current one dies.

The U.S.-based International Campaign for Tibet said its contacts around the Labrang Monastery, one of the most important monasteries outside Tibet, say troops have been stationed outside and foreigners have been barred from visiting the area in Gansu province ahead of a visit by the Chinese-selected Panchen Lama.

Any visit by him to Labrang is likely to lead to an increase in "patriotic education" for monks still loyal to the Dalai Lama and his choice for the Pachen Lama, the group said.

Many Tibetans do not accept the Chinese candidate for Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, now 21. They still view the Dalai Lama as their rightful supreme leader under Tibet's centuries-old system of being ruled by reincarnated lamas, or holy men.

No information has been released by China's government about a possible visit by its Panchen Lama to Labrang. Calls to local government and police offices were not answered Friday.

However, hotels in Xiahe county in Gansu province near the monastery confirmed they were instructed this week not to accept foreign visitors. Parts of Gansu are heavily populated with Tibetans and were part of a traditional Tibetan region before modern China was formed.

"We received notices from the county public security bureau and tourism bureau saying that we should not receive foreign guests in our hotel," a receptionist at the Labrang Minhang Hotel told The Associated Press. She would not give her name, as is common among Chinese.

Foreigners who were staying in Xiahe before the ban were asked to leave, according to an official from the Xiahe County Tourism Bureau, who would give only her surname, Li.

Little is known about the whereabouts of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the original Panchen Lama chosen by the Dalai Lama.

Tibet's governor, Padma Choling, said last year that he was in good condition and living with his family in the Himalayan region, and that he did not want to be disturbed.

The dispute over the Panchen Lama has also raised questions about what will happen when the Dalai Lama, 76, dies.

In Tibetan tradition, when an important lama dies, he is reborn as an infant and must be identified by senior monks using a number of religious tests.

China _ which reviles the current Dalai Lama as a separatist, although the Nobel Peace Prize laureate insists he only seeks cultural autonomy for Tibet _ has left little doubt that it intends to be involved in choosing his successor.

China insists that religious law requires the reincarnation be born in a Tibetan area under Chinese control. The Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 to escape a crackdown after a failed uprising against Beijing's rule, says it is possible his successor could come from outside China.

The Labrang Monastery has been home to numerous protests by monks following deadly anti-Beijing riots in Tibet in 2008.

China responded to the unrest with a massive military crackdown in which Tibetan rights groups say nearly 140 Tibetans were killed. Tourists from outside the country were banned from the entire region for more than a year.

China says Tibet has always been part of its territory, but many Tibetans say the region was virtually independent for centuries and that Beijing's control is draining Tibetan culture.

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Associated Press researcher Zhao Liang contributed to this report.

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Follow Chi-Chi Zhang at http://twitter.com/thunderchi