Innocents at the mercy of Peking

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THE POLITICAL legacy of the late 10th Panchen Lama is now secure with the publication of his 70,000 Character Petition. But his spiritual legacy is a tragedy, which is still unfolding, writes Teresa Poole.

Since 1995, two young Tibetan boys have been virtual prisoners of the Chinese in Peking, innocents caught up in a political dispute over which boy is the true reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. One, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, was named in May 1995 by the exiled Dalai Lama as the new Panchen. Then aged six, Gendun and his parents have not been seen since, after the enraged Chinese authorities spirited them away into "protective" custody.

A second boy, Gyaincain Norbu, was produced by the Chinese in November 1995 as the "real" Panchen. His future is little more enviable; he is being trained under close official scrutiny and is wheeled out for photo-opportunities to demonstrate his young spiritual wisdom. Gyaincain is now about nine, too young to realise that the majority of Tibetans consider him a Chinese fake.

With this start in life, the lives of both these potential Panchens look destined to be as tortured as that of the late Panchen, described as the "tragic hero" of occupied Tibet by the Tibetologist Professor Dawa Norbu.

The 10th Panchen was born in 1938, and his candidature for Panchen was supported by Peking. He tried to walk a tightrope between his Tibetan loyalties and the need to accommodate the Chinese. But the Panchen Lama's carefully-worded 1962 Petition led to party criticism and almost 14 years in jail or house arrest.

On his release, he again spoke up about the Tibetan people and culture, repeating many of his accusations in a 1987 speech. He died suddenly on 28 January 1989, purportedly of a heart attack. But the fact that his parents and tutor were in hospital within days of his death prompted rumours that he had been poisoned.