China will reopen Tibet to foreign tourists on April 5, a travel official said on Monday, in a sign that authorities may ease a crackdown imposed for the anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising.
State news agency Xinhua quoted Tibet's head of tourism, Bachug, as saying that tourist arrivals had been suspended in March "for the sake of travellers' safety" but would resume April 5.
"Tibet is harmonious and safe now," he said, adding that "travel agencies, tourist resorts and hotels are well prepared for tourists."
Authorities imposed the security clampdown in Tibet and adjacent areas to prevent unrest during this month's 50th anniversary of the revolt that led to the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fleeing into exile.
An official at the tourism administration of Tibet, who did not want to be named, confirmed to AFP that Tibet would reopen to foreign tourists from April 5.
"Foreign tourists can go to Tibet but need a confirmation letter from the police," he said.
However, there was some confusion about the planned re-opening among travel agents and others in the industry contacted by AFP.
"Foreign tourists can't go to Tibet until April 28th, that's from a notice from the Sichuan Travel Administration," said an employee at the Chengdu China Travel Service agency in southwest China, which does Tibet tours.
"Foreign tourists need to apply for permission to enter Tibet, and they can't go with a Chinese group."
A worker at a downtown Lhasa hostel was also unaware of the official date, saying he had heard the city would reopen to foreigners on April 14.
It is not the first time the situation has been confused -- travel agents insisted in late February that the Himalayan region had been closed to foreign travellers, but China's foreign ministry denied it.
The latest clampdown was the second time in a year Tibet has been sealed to foreign tourists.
The central government banned travellers from going to Tibet immediately after riots erupted in Lhasa on March 14 last year after four days of peaceful protests to mark the 49th anniversary of the failed uprising.
The unrest spread to neighbouring Tibetan-inhabited provinces, which were also put under a lockdown during this month's sensitive anniversary.
China's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to an AFP inquiry over when foreign journalists would be allowed to travel to Tibet.
Foreign reporters are barred from travelling independently to the Tibet Autonomous Region, and have reported obstructions by security forces in other regions of western China with Tibetan populations.
But China insists the situation in Tibet is stable, and points to what it says is substantial economic and social development in the region -- a claim celebrated Saturday on a new national day called Serf Emancipation Day.
China has ruled the region since 1951, a year after sending in troops to "liberate" Tibet.
Following last year's unrest, foreign tourists were allowed back in at the end of June -- at a time when the world's attention was focused on China ahead of the Olympic Games in August.
But they were only able to go as part of an official tour group and after applying for a permit, before once again being banned.