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Thursday, September 10, 1998 Published at 05:56 GMT 06:56 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Robinson visits Tibet

Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama has long campaigned for autonomy from China

The United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson, has begun a two-day visit to Tibet to investigate conditions in the Chinese-controlled region.

She will be meeting religious and political leaders as well as people from a range of social groups.

But in what correspondents describe as a concession to the concerns of human rights activists, she is not due to visit any of the major teaching monastries around the city where there have been protests in the past.

[ image: Tibet was invaded by China in 1950 and annexed nine years later.]
Tibet was invaded by China in 1950 and annexed nine years later.
Nor will she visit a prison. Human rights groups have warned that she would not be shown a true picture on such a visit, and that prisoners she met could face punishment if they spoke out of turn.

A UN official said Mrs Robinson would be raising with her hosts unconfirmed reports that prisoners who met visiting UN researchers last year were later subjected to harsh treatment.

Western human rights activists have accused Beijing of trampling on freedom of religion among the predominantly Buddhist population.

Only one foreign journalist, a cameraman with an Irish television station, has been approved to accompany her on the trip.

The two-day visit to the mountainous Himalayan region is the latest stage of a regional tour by Mrs Robinson, the Beijing section of which ended with a dispute between the Chinese authorities and the wife of a dissident.

Dispute over dissident

Mrs Robinson expressed concern that the woman, Chu Hailin, was dragged away as she waited to hand a letter to the UN diplomat.

BBC's Duncan Hewitt: Chu Hailin said one man stood on her and two others kicked her back
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Chu Hailan was causing a disturbance and was removed to ensure Mrs Robinson's safety.

Chu Hailan, who is married to the jailed labour activist Liu Nianchun, says she was beaten during her subsequent detention, and on her release told not to trouble Mrs Robinson again.

Mary Robinson has said that she wants to hear the views of different sections of civil society during her nine-day visit to China.

She has said her trip is a beginning in a gradual process of fostering better human rights in China.

She hopes to secure guarantees from Beijing that it will fulfil pledges to sign a covenant on civil and political rights in the next few months.

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