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Dalai Lama May Visit Seoul

By Kim Ki-tae, The Korea Times Staff Reporter, May 26, 2005

After decades of failed attempts, Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama is finally likely to visit Seoul this summer.

Seoul, South Korea -- Sources say Korean Buddhist circles are now in behind-the-scenes talks with the South Korean government over the possible visit. The government has so far rejected visa applications to the Tibetan guru to avoid diplomatic friction with China. Beijing denies Tibetan sovereignty.

"Many conditions have changed surrounding the visits recently. Things are going well,?? said a source close to the talks, under condition of anonymity.

Another source, a member of a Buddhist organization, admitted that talks were going on. ``The relationship between China and Tibet has improved, and it is brightening the prospects of his visit to Seoul,?? he said, asking not to be named.

Manhae Foundation, a Korean Buddhist group, has already invited the Tibetan monk to award him the Manhae Grand Prize for Peace in August and is waiting for the government?s approval. ``His Holiness has long expressed his willingness to visit Korea. If he is guaranteed an entry visa, he will definitely come here,?? said Kyung Hee University professor Kim Jay-hong, who is in charge of awarding the prize.

In response, the Dalai Lama said he welcomed the award and hinted that he wanted to visit Seoul this summer. ``Thank you very much for your letter of 1 January 2005 inviting me? at a ceremony to be held in Seoul,?? he wrote in a statement sent to the foundation. ``I am honored and happy to accept your award.??

Since the early 1990s, Korean Buddhist organizations have been endeavoring to invite the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. President Roh Moo-hyun expressed his support for the visit during his presidential campaign in 2002 and Minister of Foreign Affair and Trade Ban Ki-moon also said last August that the ministry would seriously consider issuing the entry visa. However, late last year, the Korean Embassy in India rejected a visa application by the Tibetan leader.

``If His Holiness comes to Seoul in August, he will not attend any other ceremonies or events but the prize ceremony and a few related events,?? said Park Gwang-seo, head of Buddhist Solidarity for Reform, which has been pushing for the visit.

``As his visits are purely for religious reasons and have nothing to do with politics, the government is expected to, this time, allow him in,?? he said.

Another anonymous source pointed at the thawing relations between Tibet and China. ``The Dalai Lama in March publicly admitted that Tibet belongs to Chinese territory, which considerably heightens the possibility of the Dalai Lama visiting China,?? he said. ``He?s visited Japan more than 10 times and Taiwan three or four times, but not here. It will be a strange situation if he visits China before Korea.??

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