DLama’s Arunachal visit on Nov 8

DHARAMSHALA: Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama will head to an area of India claimed by China on November 8, aides said Thursday, for a visit likely to escalate tensions between the countries.

China has said it "firmly opposes" the Dalai Lama's plans to travel to Arunachal Pradesh state in the northeast of India, while India considers the territory an integral part of the country.

The Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after China crushed an anti-Chinese uprising in Tibet, is viewed as a "splittist" by Beijing, although he says he wants autonomy rather than full independence for his homeland.

"He will travel there (to Arunachal Pradesh) on November 8 for about one week," an aide to the Dalai Lama told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that he would visit temples and a hospital for which he helped raise funds.

Thubten Samphel, spokesman for the Tibetan government in exile in the northern Indian hilltown of Dharamshala, confirmed the date without giving further details.

The Chinese foreign ministry on Tuesday had criticised the proposed visit, saying it exposed "the Dalai Lama's nature of anti-China separatism".

The Dalai Lama has visited Arunachal Pradesh previously, but his upcoming trip comes after a series of spats in the prickly relationship between India and China.

They traded diplomatic jabs over Arunachal Pradesh only weeks ago when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the state while he was on the campaign trail before local elections.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Singh are set to meet for a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a regional summit in Thailand on Friday.

Earlier this month, India lodged a formal protest with Beijing over a new practice of issuing special Chinese visas for residents of Indian Kashmir, which is viewed by China as disputed territory.

India has also complained about Chinese investment on the Pakistan-controlled side of Kashmir.

The two nations fought a border war in 1962 in which Chinese troops advanced deep into Arunachal Pradesh and inflicted heavy casualties on Indian troops.

India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometres (14,700 square miles) of its Himalayan territory, while Beijing claims all of Arunachal Pradesh, which covers 90,000 square kilometres.

The government in New Delhi has backed the Dalai Lama's right to visit Arunachal Pradesh, despite Beijing's objections.

Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao has said the Dalai Lama was a guest of India "free to visit any part of our country".

"Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India," he said.