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British minister to make first-ever Tibet trip

September 8, 2009

(AFP) - September 7, 2009

LONDON - Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis will visit Tibet this week as
part of a fact-finding mission to China, the first such trip by a British
minister, his office said on Monday.

Lewis will visit Lhasa, the administrative capital of Tibet, and Beijing
between Monday and Thursday.

"It is the first visit to Tibet by a British minister ever," a spokeswoman
for the Foreign Office told AFP.

The ministry said in a statement that Lewis "will be meeting key contacts in
the Chinese government in Beijing, to take forward our co-operation with
China on a range of international and bilateral issues."

It added that Lewis will also "engage with the regional authorities in Tibet
and explore at first hand the political, economic, social and cultural
situation of Tibetans there."

Pro-Tibet campaigners 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.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled Buddhist spiritual leader, has said that
since then Beijing had imposed "a death sentence" on his homeland.

"It is inconceivable that a British minister visiting Tibet for the first
time since last year's protest and violent crackdown would fail to make such
a statement," said Free Tibet campaign director Stephanie Brigden.

"Failure to make a public statement would be seen as offering a tacit
endorsement of China?s policy in Tibet, would hand China a wholly undeserved
propaganda victory and would only embolden the Chinese authorities to carry
on perpetrating further atrocities."

China has ruled Tibet since 1951 after invading the previous year.
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