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British minister backs 'greater autonomy' in Tibet trip

September 13, 2009

(AFP) - 12 September 2009

LONDON - A British minister underlined London's support for greater Tibetan
autonomy during an unprecedented visit to Lhasa this week, and talks in
Beijing, the Foreign Office said Friday.

 Junior Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis visited China from Monday to
Thursday, and made the first ever trip to Tibet by a British government
member, 18 months after an internationally-criticised Chinese crackdown in

"This is a historic visit," he was quoted as saying by an FCO statement,
adding that it was in the context of "our decision to change UK policy, and
the significant international concern following the events in March 2008."

"We recognise Tibet as an autonomous region of China ... But long-term
stability can only be achieved through respect for human rights and greater
autonomy," he said.

"This depends on substantive dialogue between the Chinese government and the
representatives of (exiled Tibetan leader) the Dalai Lama. China has said
all matters except independence can be discussed. But its position has

"I urged them to reiterate the earlier position," he said.

In Tibet, Lewis notably met the chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region and
the Drepung Monastery, while in Beijing he discussed the situation there
with the vice minister of the United Front Work Department.

Ahead of the visit pro-Tibet campaigners had urged Lewis to speak out
against China's rule of the Himalayan territory and what they argue are
increased human rights abuses since last year's unrest in the region.

The authorities say rioters killed 21 people in the March 2008 unrest, but
exile groups claim more than 200 people died, many as a result of the
security crackdown.
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