Chinese rebuff UN plea

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The Independent Online
"I AM NOT a comfortable presence for the Chinese authorities and that is understandable, because they have many problems and many violations," said Mary Robinson, the first United Nations Human Rights Commissioner to visit China.

Yesterday, in a 90-minute meeting, she heard President Jiang Zemin repeat China's argument that lifting people out of poverty was the country's priority - and responded by telling him that protecting civil liberties was just as important.

During her 10-day trip, which ends today, Mrs Robinson has sought to open a process of engagement with China, a country where human-rights abuses are still commonplace but where the past two decades has also seen improvements in personal freedoms and living standards.

She "emphasised the im-portance of human rights, not just for peace and security, but also for economic development," said her spokesman, Jose Diaz. She did not raise individual cases with Mr Jiang but had pressed Chinese and Tibetan officials for information on political prisoners.

Details of the visit, which she has described as "difficult", will emerge today, when Mrs Robinson finally talks to the press.

During her two-day visit to Tibet, which was the most sensitive leg of the trip, she refused to visit a prison, after letting it be known that she feared reprisals against prisoners.

On a visit to a monastery, Mrs Robinson asked to meet a veteran dissident monk, Yulo Dawa Tsering, who was arrested after speaking to a UN human- rights team in 1994.

Her request was not granted by the Chinese. She also asked officials in Tibet of the whereabouts of nine-year-old Gendun Choekyi Nyimi, who was named by the Dalai Lama in 1995 as the new Panchen Lama.

She received no answer. "It's not ever a case of getting instant answers. I regard this as the start of a continuing process," she said.

r China's former president Yang Shangkun died yesterday aged 92, state media reported. A ranking general, Yang had played a crucial role in the suppression of the pro-democracy demonstrations that swept China in the spring of 1989.

Obituary, Review, page 6