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Dalai Lama to visit disputed Indian state on Nov 8

October 23, 2009

AFP
October 22, 2009

DHARAMSHALA, India -- Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama will
head to an area of India claimed by China on November 8, aides said
Thursday, for a visit likely to escalate tensions between the countries.

China has said it "firmly opposes" the Dalai Lama's plans to travel
to Arunachal Pradesh state in the northeast of India, while India
considers the territory an integral part of the country.

The Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after China crushed an
anti-Chinese uprising in Tibet, is viewed as a "splittist" by
Beijing, although he says he wants autonomy rather than full
independence for his homeland.

"He will travel there (to Arunachal Pradesh) on November 8 for about
one week," an aide to the Dalai Lama told AFP on condition of
anonymity, adding that he would visit temples and a hospital for
which he helped raise funds.

Thubten Samphel, spokesman for the Tibetan government in exile in the
northern Indian hilltown of Dharamshala, confirmed the date without
giving further details.

The Chinese foreign ministry on Tuesday had criticised the proposed
visit, saying it exposed "the Dalai Lama's nature of anti-China separatism".

The Dalai Lama has visited Arunachal Pradesh previously, but his
upcoming trip comes after a series of spats in the prickly
relationship between India and China.

They traded diplomatic jabs over Arunachal Pradesh only weeks ago
when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the state while he
was on the campaign trail before local elections.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Singh are set to meet for a bilateral
meeting on the sidelines of a regional summit in Thailand on Friday.

Earlier this month, India lodged a formal protest with Beijing over a
new practice of issuing special Chinese visas for residents of Indian
Kashmir, which is viewed by China as disputed territory.

India has also complained about Chinese investment on the
Pakistan-controlled side of Kashmir.

The two nations fought a border war in 1962 in which Chinese troops
advanced deep into Arunachal Pradesh and inflicted heavy casualties
on Indian troops.

India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometres (14,700 square
miles) of its Himalayan territory, while Beijing claims all of
Arunachal Pradesh, which covers 90,000 square kilometres.

The government in New Delhi has backed the Dalai Lama's right to
visit Arunachal Pradesh, despite Beijing's objections.

Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao has said the Dalai Lama was a guest of
India "free to visit any part of our country".

"Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India," he said.
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