Page last updated at 04:40 GMT, Tuesday, 1 July 2008 05:40 UK

Dalai Lama envoys in China talks

Dalai Lama, file pic from June 2008
China blames the Dalai Lama for the unrest in and around Tibet in March

Senior envoys of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, are in Beijing for formal talks with the Chinese government.

The meeting aims to ease tensions following violent anti-China protests in March in Tibet.

In a statement, the Dalai Lama urged the envoys to achieve "tangible progress" in the two-day talks.

Chinese authorities have given few details of the talks, confirming neither the time, venue nor the agenda.

Beijing has accused the Dalai Lama of orchestrating the violent protests that erupted in and around Tibet in March.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner denies the allegations and says he is seeking greater autonomy, not independence, for Tibet.

'Difficult issue'

The two sides held informal talks in May, in what was seen as a concession by Beijing to international pressure in the wake of the violence.

This round of talks is a continuation of formal dialogue that began in 2002, said Samdhong Rimpoche, prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

A police officer stands guard in Lhasa, Tibet, 20/06
Security remains tight in Lhasa, almost four months after the unrest

"His Holiness the Dalai Lama has instructed the envoys to make every effort to bring about tangible progress to alleviate the difficult situation for Tibetans in their homeland," a statement from the government-in-exile said.

The two envoys, Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen, arrived in Beijing on Monday ahead of the two-day talks, it said.

The meeting has been delayed by several weeks following the devastating earthquake in Sichuan province.

China has so far remained quiet on the talks, which come only weeks before the Olympic Games are due to open in Beijing.

China says Tibet was always part of its territory
Tibet enjoyed long periods of autonomy before 20th century
In 1950, China launched a military assault
Opposition to Chinese rule led to a bloody uprising in 1959
Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama fled to India

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on China to engage sincerely with the Dalai Lama.

"We think he's a very positive figure in dealing with the very difficult issue of Tibet," she said during a visit to Beijing.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy - who has threatened to boycott the opening ceremony of the Games over Tibet - said he believed the talks were "progressing well".

"If they continue to progress and if the Dalai Lama and the Chinese president recognise this progress, then all obstacles to my participation (in the ceremony) will have been lifted," he said.

Unrest began in Tibet on 10 March, on the anniversary of a Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

Buddhist monks led anti-Beijing rallies in Lhasa which grew into widespread unrest among Tibetans, both in Tibet and surrounding provinces.

China says rioters killed at least 19 people, but Tibetan exiles say security forces killed dozens of protesters. It was the worst unrest in Tibet for 20 years.

Last week Chinese authorities reopened Tibet to foreign tourists, but access for journalists remains tightly controlled.

Chinese officials say 116 people remain in custody over the protests - but rights groups say they fear the number is higher.

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