Page last updated at 03:24 GMT, Monday, 6 April 2009 04:24 UK

Foreign tourists return to Tibet

A police officer stands guard in Lhasa, Tibet (archive image)
The Tibetan capital, Lhasa, is a popular destination for adventurous tourists

Tourists have begun arriving in Tibet again, Chinese state media reports.

China has re-opened the region after it was closed to travellers for almost two months because of security fears linked to a number of sensitive anniversaries.

A German tour group was the first to arrive at the weekend, and more than 500 tourists are expected this month.

But there is still a heavy Chinese military presence in the area, and foreign journalists and human rights groups cannot operate freely.

China claims Tibet as part of its territory, but many Tibetans dispute this.

'Harmonious and safe'

The official Chinese news agency Xinhua said it expected about 200 tour groups to visit during April, including tourists from the United States, Canada, France, Japan, Italy, Denmark and Australia.

"We are receiving more foreign tourists now than any other time since March 14 last year," Liu Mingzan, manager of the Tibet Qamdo International Travel Agency, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

Xinhua also quoted a German tourist saying he felt comfortable, and Tibet's head of tourism as saying the region was now "harmonious and safe".

China requires foreigners to obtain special permission to visit Tibet and routinely bars them from all Tibetan areas of the country during sensitive periods to keep news of unrest from leaking out, correspondents say.

Difficult dates

Analysts say that the main reason for the recent closure was the 50th anniversary of the 1959 uprising that led to the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, fleeing over the border to India.

Foreign visitors, banned from Tibet for almost two months, had also been prevented from visiting ethnically Tibetan areas in Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan provinces of China.

Alongside the anniversary of the uprising, sensitivity surrounded the Tibetan New Year, which began on 25 February and was unofficially boycotted by some Tibetans.

They were in mourning for those who died in last year's anti-government riots in Lhasa and Beijing's subsequent crackdown.

This year, Beijing also announced a new date, which it calls Serf's Emancipation Day, intended to commemorate the imposition of direct rule over the Himalayan region by China on 28 March 1959, when Beijing ended the Tibetan uprising.

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