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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Exiles see room for more militant Tibetan groups

May 24, 2008

By Krittivas Mukherjee
May 22, 2008

DHARAMSALA, India (Reuters) - A restless young generation of Tibetans
is warning that a failure to achieve Tibet's independence is creating
a deep well of frustration, offering space for more radical groups in
coming years.

Many exiled Tibetans would like to go further than the conciliatory
"middle way" approach of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who
seeks autonomy. Yet they say it is Beijing that is to blame if their
exiled movement turns violent.

"The space for a militant leader is not being created by the Dalai
Lama's policy, but because of China's stubborn unwillingness to
negotiate with His Holiness," said Nawang Lobsang of Tibetan college
students' mass movement group.

Many in the group operate from Dharamsala, where the self-proclaimed
Tibetan government-in-exile is based. Some 150,000 Tibetans live in
India, many of whom fled Tibet after a failed uprising against
Chinese rule in 1959.

The town has been a centre of protests since a crackdown by Chinese
authorities following a wave of unrest in Tibetan areas in March and
subsequent demonstrations against the Olympic torch route around the globe.

Chinese officials met representatives of the Dalai Lama earlier this
month, but many Tibetan community leaders said the talks were not
serious negotiations, but merely a ploy to improve Beijing's image
ahead of the Olympics.

China, which says it sent troops into Tibet in 1950 to liberate it
from feudal serfdom, blames the Dalai Lama for the recent unrest and
has vilified him as a separatist bent on independence for Tibet and
disrupting the Beijing Olympics.

"That way the Chinese are foolish because they are missing the
opportunity to negotiate with a non-violent, peaceful man," Lobsang
said. "They might have to deal with a radical leader in the future."

Many Tibetans are careful to balance every criticism of the Dalai
Lama with affirmations of admiration.

"Our youngsters are getting fed up with the middle way, but we are
not criticising the Dalai Lama," Lobsang told Reuters. "The
frustration is generated by the Chinese response to the middle way,
not necessarily by the middle way approach per se."


The sharpest critic of the "middle way" is the Tibetan Youth Congress
(TYC), whose charter speaks of a struggle for independence "even at
the cost of one's life" -- a position that many in China use as
evidence to brand the group as terrorists.

"Tibetan youth today, they are speaking in a language like, 'give me
a needle I will find the eyes of the elephant myself'. How do you
interpret that?" TYC vice-president Dhondup Dorjee said.

"There are people who are just willing to do anything. There are so
many. So what we are doing is resorting to indefinite hunger strike
-- 40 to 50 days without food just a little bit of water -- we are
trying to balance the frustration and anger."

Dorjee says the chances are that someone will mobilise this anger to
lead a violent struggle in the coming years.

What could happen, he says, is an armed revolt within Tibet might be
coordinated from outside using routes and communication channels that
exiles use to keep in touch back home.

"If someone said to us 'Tibet will be free if we chop off the head of
a sheep', the Dalai Lama cannot do it," Dorjee said. "But we are not
the Dalai Lama. Where is the problem in us chopping off the heads of
thousands of sheep to free Tibet?

"The issue of Tibet is not just the issue of the Dalai Lama. The
issue of Tibet is the issue of the Tibetan people."

Even elderly Tibetans, such as Karma Chophel, the speaker of the
Tibetan parliament-in-exile, say the "middle way" is alienating the
Dalai Lama from the new generation.

"Even according to the middle way approach we are trying for
self-rule, we should not depend entirely on China to give us
something," he said. "We must be aggressive ourselves also. We must
be seen as doing something."

But young leaders such as Dorjee are aware of the difficulties of a
more radical Tibetan exile movement.

In that case, China could put pressure on India, Dorjee says, to ask
the Dalai Lama to leave. But others say New Delhi could use an
anti-China movement as leverage for geopolitical advantage.

"We don't know what will happen," said Lobsang. "But it is the false
hope of China that the Tibet issue will go away once the Dalai Lama is gone."
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