NEW DELHI // Several hundred Tibetan exile leaders gathered in northern India today for a landmark meeting widely expected to determine the direction of the movement that has struggled for decades to win autonomy from China. The week-long meeting that begins tomorrow was called by the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, saying that new ideas were needed following the repeated failure of talks with China.
Today, the Dalai Lama's envoys to the last round of talks with Beijing issued a statement saying they had presented China with a detailed plan on how Tibetans could meet their needs of autonomy within the framework of the Chinese constitution. But China has apparently rejected the plan and recent "Chinese statements distort the position and proposal we have outlined in our paper," the statement said.
Chinese officials said no progress had been made in the talks two weeks ago, calling the Tibetan stance "a trick" and saying it lacked sincerity. It was the first time the envoys had commented on the talks, saying they had not wanted to make statements ahead of this week's special meeting. The Dalai Lama told Tibetans ahead of the meeting that there was no set plan. "It must be clear to all that this special meeting does not have any agenda for reaching a particular predetermined outcome," he said. "We can be proud at this moment when the Tibetan people themselves are ready and able to take responsibility for Tibet."
China has dismissed the meeting as meaningless, saying the participants do not represent the views of most Tibetans. Beijing says the Dalai Lama and his followers are seeking outright independence from Chinese rule. China insists Tibet has been part of its territory for 700 years, although many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of that time. Chinese forces invaded shortly after the 1949 Communist revolution and the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 amid an unsuccessful uprising against Chinese rule.
Tibetan representatives and Chinese officials have held several rounds of talks on the disputed territory, with little apparent progress. A senior Chinese official said in comments broadcast Friday that Beijing is open to further talks with the Tibetans. The Dalai Lama voiced his impatience with China last month and appeared to give up hope of achieving a form of autonomy from Beijing that would allow Tibetans to freely practice their culture, language and religion.
"As far as I'm concerned I have given up," he said. *AP