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Foreign tourists return to Tibet

April 7, 2009

BBC
April 6, 2009

Tourists have begun arriving in Tibet again, Chinese state media reports.

China has re-opened the region after it was
closed to travellers for almost two months
because of security fears linked to a number of sensitive anniversaries.

A German tour group was the first to arrive at
the weekend, and more than 500 tourists are expected this month.

But there is still a heavy Chinese military
presence in the area, and foreign journalists and
human rights groups cannot operate freely.

China claims Tibet as part of its territory, but many Tibetans dispute this.

'Harmonious and safe'

The official Chinese news agency Xinhua said it
expected about 200 tour groups to visit during
April, including tourists from the United States,
Canada, France, Japan, Italy, Denmark and Australia.

"We are receiving more foreign tourists now than
any other time since March 14 last year," Liu
Mingzan, manager of the Tibet Qamdo International
Travel Agency, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

Xinhua also quoted a German tourist saying he
felt comfortable, and Tibet's head of tourism as
saying the region was now "harmonious and safe".

China requires foreigners to obtain special
permission to visit Tibet and routinely bars them
from all Tibetan areas of the country during
sensitive periods to keep news of unrest from leaking out, correspondents say.

Difficult dates

Analysts say that the main reason for the recent
closure was the 50th anniversary of the 1959
uprising that led to the Dalai Lama, Tibet's
spiritual leader, fleeing over the border to India.

Foreign visitors, banned from Tibet for almost
two months, had also been prevented from visiting
ethnically Tibetan areas in Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan provinces of China.

Alongside the anniversary of the uprising,
sensitivity surrounded the Tibetan New Year,
which began on 25 February and was unofficially boycotted by some Tibetans.

They were in mourning for those who died in last
year's anti-government riots in Lhasa and Beijing's subsequent crackdown.

This year, Beijing also announced a new date,
which it calls Serf's Emancipation Day, intended
to commemorate the imposition of direct rule over
the Himalayan region by China on 28 March 1959,
when Beijing ended the Tibetan uprising.
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