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Tibet's problems similar to southern Italy: EU delegate

September 20, 2009

(AFP)

BRUSSELS - The first EU delegation to visit Tibet spoke enthusiastically
Friday of an economic boom in the Himalayan region, saying the region had
"the same sort of problems" found in southern Italy.

Tibet's economic development is "impressive" said Mario Sepi, Italian head
of the consultative European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and leader
of the three-man mission.

Flanked by China's ambassador to the European Union, Zhe Song, Sepi said the
problems seen in Tibet could be compared to those in southern Italy.

"We have seen the same sort of problems in the Mezzogiorno region,"
including Naples, which suffers poverty and mafia problems, he said.

Sepi stressed the positive: "The human rights problem is essential but you
also have to take into account the economic development and social justice,"
he said, to approving nods from the Chinese ambassador.

The European official justified ambassador Zhe's presence by saying that it
made it easier for him to "submit recommendations to his government."

Sepi and his delegation spent four days in Tibet, mainly in the capital
Lhasa and held several talks with Chinese officials after being invited to
visit by the Chinese.

There were no meetings with opposition figures.

"There were lots of police officers controlling the streets," Sepi said, but
"we were able to speak freely to Tibetans thanks to our interpreter."

The EU delegation's number two, German Peter Clever also noted "a strong
security presence" in Tibet.

"From my point of view this contributes to a feeling of menace," he said,
before adding that this was "a personal and subjective view as I am not a
security expert."

The EU representative admitted that the "consequences of the events" of
March 2008 continued to be felt in Tibet.

"The crisis is not over," he said.

Exiled Tibetan leaders say some 200 people died in the Chinese crackdown on
the protests in their Himalayan homeland, while China claims that rioters
killed 21 innocent people.

The UN has voiced concern at allegations of disproportionate use of force
against ethnic Tibetans during the protests.

China sent troops into Tibet in 1950 and officially "liberated" it the
following year.

The Tibet visit, approved by EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso,
was funded with European taxpayers' money.
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