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400 Tibetans killed since March: Dalai Lama

Chinese troops fired on Tibetan protesters this week, as Beijing hosted the Olympics, and 400 people have been killed since unrest erupted in March, the Dalai Lama was quoted as saying in an interview.

world Updated: Aug 21, 2008 22:25 IST

Chinese troops fired on Tibetan protesters this week, as Beijing hosted the Olympics, and 400 people have been killed since unrest erupted in March, the Dalai Lama was quoted as saying in an interview published on Thursday.

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader denied a comment attributed to him by Le Monde newspaper that 140 people had died on Monday when the Chinese security forces opened fire. But his office said there were casualties.

"The Chinese army again fired on a crowd on Monday August 18, in the Kham region in eastern Tibet," said the Nobel Peace prize winner who is on a 12 day visit to France.

Le Monde quoted him as saying that up to 140 people had been killed, though the figure was not confirmed.

"His Holiness did not mention any number of casualties," his office said in a statement after the interview was published, adding that "he clearly stated that we had no specific information on the number of casualties."

The Dalai Lama's representative in Geneva, Tseten Samdup Chhoekyapa, said the protest was in Garze, a Tibetan-populated town in China's southwest Sichuan province which is part of the Kham region.

"Definitely, Chinese security forces were firing (at protesters)," he told AFP, citing one "reliable" source.

"We have been told that there have been casualties but we are not able to verify what casualties means, whether people have been killed or whether they have been injured," he said.

In his interview with Le Monde, the Dalai Lama said that since March "reliable witnesses say that 400 people have been killed in the region of (the Tibetan capital) Lhasa alone."

"Killed by bullets, even though they were protesting without weapons. Their bodies were never given back to their families. If you consider the whole of Tibet, the number of victims is obviously higher," he said

"Ten thousand people have been arrested. We don't know where they are imprisoned," said the 73-year-old Dalai Lama.

Unrest erupted in Lhasa in March after four days of protests against Chinese rule.

The Dalai Lama said it looked as though Chinese security forces were planning to continue their crackdown for many years and there had been a "frenzy" of new military camps built in the Amdo and Kham regions.

"A project of long-term brutal repression is under way."

He said that in the run-up to the Beijing Olympic he had been hopeful of progress, encouraged by the commitment of Chinese President Hu Jintao to begin serious talks.

"But we were quickly disillusioned. Our envoys came up against a wall. There was no opening," he said, adding that autonomy and not independence remained his goal for Tibet.

"Real autonomy, because we know what Chinese-style autonomy is: a trap."

The Dalai Lama repeated in his Le Monde interview that his visit to France was not political.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has refused to meet the Tibetan spirtual leader, but the Dalai Lama said he hoped Sarkozy, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, would "make constructive propositions to the Chinese government" when the Olympics are over.

The Tibetan leader is to meet with Sarkozy's pop star wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Friday.

China warned France on Wednesday to prudently deal with the "important and sensitive" issue of Tibet.

China sent troops into Tibet in 1950 and officially "liberated" it the following year. The Dalai Lama fled into exile in India in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking independence for Tibet and of fomenting unrest. The spiritual leader insists he wants autonomy and religious freedom rather than independence.

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