Dalai Lama 'can return to Tibet'

PEKING (AFP) - China yesterday invited the Dalai Lama to return from his Indian exile, saying he was welcome but reiterating its refusal to negotiate on Tibetan independence.

The invitation was immediately spurned by the Tibetan government-in-exile, which said talks could not be held if Peking laid down pre-conditions.

'The Dalai Lama is welcome to end his exile as early as possible and return to the motherland so as to make his contributions to safeguarding national unity and enhancing ethnic fraternity and do something useful for the welfare and happiness of the Tibetan people,' a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

The spokesman did not comment on whether a dialogue was already underway - after reports of a visit to China earlier this month by the Dalai Lama's brother, Gyalo Phondup - saying Tibetan affairs were an internal matter. But, the spokesman said, the door of negotiation with the Dalai Lama remained wide open, and he added that all matters except the independence of Tibet could be discussed.

'We hope that the Dalai Lama will stop his activities of splitting the motherland and give up his position for Tibetan independence,' the spokesman was quoted as saying by the Xinhua news agency.

The Dalai Lama's chief representative in New Delhi said the invitation could be considered only if Peking agreed to drop its insistence that the independence of Tibet could not be negotiated. Miguer Dorjee called the invitation a repetition of similar gestures made by China in the past. 'But we would like to negotiate with the Chinese leadership on the Tibetan issue without pre-conditions,' he said.

China considers Tibet to have been a part of its territory since the 13th century and says the Chinese army peacefully liberated the region in 1951. The Dalai Lama and many followers fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

A 1987 resurgence of the Tibetan independence movement was ruthlessly suppressed, while two people were killed during demonstrations in the capital, Lhasa, in May.