US presses China on access to Tibet

The United States ambassador to Peking has urged Chinese authorities to grant foreign correspondents access to Tibet following reports of serious human-rights violations in the Himalayan region. US Ambassador Winston Lord asked a top official in Tibet to end a near ban on visits by foreign journalists since pro-independence protests shook the former Buddhist theocracy last fall, a US Embassy spokesperson said Wednesday.

The request came soon after Asia Watch, a human rights organization, issued a report on Tibet.

``Human rights violations there are severe and warrant strong international concern,'' the Washington-based group said.

``The Chinese government has severely restricted access to the territory, and, as a result, practices [involving the abuse of human rights] have largely escaped scrutiny,'' wrote Jack Greenberg, chairman of Asia Watch, in comments accompanying the report.

``Serious abuses of human rights continue and are now largely unchecked by the kind of international attention that accompanied the suppression of the fall protests,'' the report said, referring to three independence rallies by Tibetan Buddhist monks that were squashed by Chinese security forces.

Ambassador Lord, visiting Tibet unofficially, was told by Doje Cering, chairman of Peking's regional government in Tibet, that the restrictions on foreign correspondents will soon be slightly relaxed, the Embassy official said.

Peking barred all foreigners but a limited number of tourist groups from entering Tibet after the strife last October. Its restrictions have been particularly stiff since a March demonstration against Peking's rule, the most serious anti-Chinese unrest since a 1959 Tibetan revolt.

Asia Watch reported that police fired on some of the 10,000 Tibetan protesters during the rally on March 5, the final day of the major annual festival of Tibetan Buddhism.

The rights group also charged the Chinese with torturing Tibetan prisoners after the demonstration. It based its report on the accounts of visitors to the region, the foreign press, and Chinese newspapers.

Doje Cering told Mr. Lord that most of the 220 demonstrators arrested after the March riot have been released, ``although a score of them are still under custody,'' the official New China News Agency says.

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