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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Rinpoche Defies China as Tibet's Prime Minister Based in India

May 1, 2008

By Jay Shankar
April 30, 2008

Samdhong Rinpoche sits in his office facing snow-capped mountains,
listening to the chants of Tibetan monks and nuns while he runs a
government that is challenging China for autonomy. He is in India, not

Rinpoche is the 69-year-old prime minister heading the Kashag, the
highest executive authority of Tibetan exiles, based in Dharamshala, in
northern India, called ``Little Lhasa'' by residents after the Tibetan

The town, home to 15,000 Tibetan exiles and the Nechung Monastery, known
as the oracle and protector of Tibet, has become the focus of Tibetan
opposition to Chinese rule that erupted last month with the most violent
protests in Lhasa in 20 years.

``It is a crucial moment in our history of Tibetan struggle,'' Rinpoche
said in a March 24 interview in Dharamshala, where he presides over
seven ministries with responsibility for Tibetan exiles in India, Nepal
and Bhutan.

India gave refuge to the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, and his
80,000 supporters when they fled Tibet after a failed uprising in 1959.
The Dalai Lama set up a government-in- exile in Dharamshala in 1960.
More than 120,000 Tibetans live outside the Himalayan region that China
took over in 1951.

``Tibetans are considered neither as refugees or Indian citizens,'' said
Tsering Dhondup, the administration's finance minister. ``We are foreign
citizens. There is a lot of unemployment.''

Lacking Funds

The 50 Tibetan settlements in 9 of India's 28 states are
``overcrowded,'' Dhondup said. ``Whatever income used to come from the
land is not enough now to sustain a family in the settlements.''

Tibetan refuges sell sweaters, handicrafts, garments or work in hotels,
the tourism industry and agriculture, Tenzin Takhla, an aide to the
Dalai Lama, said. ``We provide them homes and it is up to them to find a

The Dalai Lama gave up day-to-day oversight of the government-in-exile
in 2001 when Rinpoche was first elected, spokesman Thupten Samphel said.
``He said then that he is going into semi-retirement.''

China blames the Dalai Lama's supporters for last month's unrest in
Tibet and neighboring provinces. The Dalai Lama says he is seeking
greater autonomy, not independence, for the territory.

Rinpoche was elected prime minister for a second five-year term by
Tibetan exiles in June 2006. He and his 500-member administration look
after the rehabilitation of refugees and provide amenities in the

Youth Wing

While the Tibetan government-in-exile wants autonomy for Tibet, the
Tibetan Youth Congress rejects the Dalai Lama's call and is campaigning
for independence.

``We humbly respect his stand,'' Tsewang Rigzin, president of the
30,000-member group, said in an interview in Dharamshala.
``Respectfully, we disagree with it as we stand for independence.''

The exiled government, known as the Central Tibetan Administration, has
jurisdiction over all Tibet, Dhondup said in an interview. ``We consider
whatever government we have is a continuation of the government we were
having in Tibet.''

The administration gets its income from three sources, said Rinpoche.
All Tibetans have to pay a ``voluntary tax,'' which is 44 rupees ($1.10)
each year for those living in India and $44 for exiles living in the
U.S. On paying the tax, each Tibetan gets a ``green book,'' which
entitles the holder to vote, Takhla said. The book has the entries of
the tax he or she has paid, he said.

While money filters in from a charitable trust run by the government,
most income is generated by grants given by the U.S, Norway, Italy,
France, Germany and other nations, he said.

Voluntary Aid

More than 100 ``voluntary agencies'' also raise money for the government
around the world. ``Most are based in Europe, the U.S. and Australia,''
Rinpoche said. ``Some of the agencies directly undertake projects in
Tibetan communities. Others donate money to the government which
executes the projects. Certainly, we need more funds to implement
development projects.''

The Kashag has eight ministers including Tempa Tsering, who is in charge
of the Bureau of His Holiness in New Delhi. The Department of Home looks
after rehabilitation and the Department of Security guards the Dalai Lama.

``Ultimately, the Indian government is responsible for the protection of
the Dalai Lama,'' Rinpoche said. ``The department is a second tier and
we cannot give out the number of guards which are employed.''

Other departments, including finance, education, health, information and
international relations, are housed in Dharamshala, a summer resort used
by the British who ruled India until 1947. The government-in-exile has a
judiciary and the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission which looks after
civil disputes within the community.

Raising Money

Raising funds is the main challenge for the administration, Dhondup
said. Grants and donations totaled 707 million rupees ($17.5 million) in
the year to March 31, 2007.

``There is a shortage of at least 40 percent,'' he said. ``We could not
complete half of the projects planned during the last five years,''
including sanitation, housing and education.

It is the government's responsibility to rehabilitate new arrivals such
as Kalsang Wangmo, 27, a nun, who with five others, hid in a truck to
reach Nepal before making it to Dharamshala on March 15. In Tibet, nuns
aren't allowed to study in their monastery and can't carry a portrait of
the Dalai Lama, she said.

``I have never seen my homeland,'' Tibetan opera singer Sonam Phuntsok,
wearing jeans, a black T-shirt and wrapped in a Tibetan flag, said in

Phuntsok, 43, lives in a one-bedroom apartment provided by the Tibetan
Institute of Performing Arts and earns 4,500 rupees a month. ``I
struggle every month to pay for my daughter's education and maintain my
family. My dream is to go back to Tibet and perform there once.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Jay Shankar in Bangalore at
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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