‘Dalai free to visit any part of India’

NEW DELHI: India has reaffirmed Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama’s right to visit its disputed border region with China in

the face of stern objections from Beijing.

The India-based Dalai Lama is slated to visit next month the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, at the

centre of a long-simmering border dispute between the

giant neighbours.

The Dalai Lama, who fled to India 50 years ago after China crushed an uprising in his

Tibetan homeland, is denounced by Beijing as a “splittist” despite his calls for autonomy rather than full independence for Tibet.

“The Dalai Lama is a religious figure and he does not indulge in political activities,” said Nirupama Rao, India’s

foreign secretary

“He is our guest in India and he is free to visit any part of our country,” she added.

Rao said China’s objections to the Buddhist leader’s visit had been taken “seriously” but India has been clear about its own position.

India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometres of its Himalayan territory, while Beijing claims all of Arunachal Pradesh, which covers 90,000 square

kilometres.

“Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India,” Rao said. An official of the Dalai Lama in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamsala, home to the spiritual leader’s government-in-exile, said last month the visit to Arunachal Pradesh was “purely religious in

nature”.

Beijing’s objections to the Dalai Lama’s trip are the latest in a series of tensions to buffet prickly ties between India and China. The two nations fought a border war in 1962 in which Chinese troops advanced deep into Arunachal Pradesh.

Rao’s remarks came after

India and China traded

diplomatic jabs earlier this month over a visit in early

this month by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the state.

Arunachal Pradesh voted for the assembly on October 13. An impressive 72-per cent turn out debunks China’s territorial claim over the Indian border state.

Singh and his Chinese

counterpart Wen Jiabao are

expected to meet on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit

in the Thai capital, Bangkok.

New Delhi has called for

Beijing to take a “long-term view” of India-China ties.

Both nations are emerging superpowers.