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Dalai Lama Hopes to Visit Seoul on Buddha's Birthday Next Year

The Korea Times, Nov 28, 2004

SEOUL, South Korea -- The Dalai Lama intends to visit South Korea in May next year to attend religious functions on the occasion of the anniversary of Buddha's birthday, a senior aide to the Tibetan spiritual leader said Sunday.

"It is true that His Holiness is willing to consider visiting Korea in 2005 at the invitation of Korean Buddhists if it does not cause any inconveniences to the Korean government and visas are granted,?? said Tenzin Taklha, deputy secretary of the Office of His Highness the Dalai Lama headquartered in Dharamsala, India.

The Seoul government refused to issue an entry visa to the Dalai Lama in 2000 when the Tibetan spiritual leader applied for a visa to attend religious gatherings, inviting strong criticism from the media, Buddhist groups and other religious organizations with claims that South Korea was pandering to China.

South Korea fears granting the Dalai Lama entry would undermine relations with China, which has not only emerged as one of South Korea's biggest trading partners but is also playing a significant role in persuading North Korea to take part in the six-party talks on its nuclear weapons ambitions.

Despite claims by South Korean Buddhists and the Dalai Lama himself that the visit would be purely religious, China sees the Dalai Lama as the leader of an exiled Tibetan government that is seeking Tibet's independence from China.

In an e-mail interview with Yonhap News Agency, the senior aide to the Dalai Lama said, ``This is to confirm that His Holiness the Dalai Lama would like to visit Korea in May 2005.??

The remarks by Taklha came amid reports that the exiled Tibetan leader told South Korean Buddhist monks attending a religious gathering in New Delhi recently that he was ready to cancel other plans in order to visit South Korea on the occasion of Buddha's birthday in May next year if the South Korean government decides to issue an entry visa.

Beop Jang, head monk of South Korea's largest Buddhist sect, the Jogye Order, recently allowed a group of Buddhist monks to pursue the project of inviting the Dalai Lama to South Korea in May.

The moves come against the backdrop of Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon having hinted at the possibility of the Seoul government issuing an entry visa to the Dalai Lama, telling a news conference in Seoul in August that his government would ``consider?? the issue of a visit to South Korea by the Dalai Lama ``when such a situation happens.??

In December 2002, President Roh Moo-hyun, then presidential candidate for the then ruling Millennium Democratic Party, said in a letter to those trying to organize a visit by the Dalai Lama that it was not right for the South Korean government to link the issue of Seoul's ties with Beijing to a visit to Korea by the Tibetan spiritual leader.

After his inauguration, Roh reportedly raised the issue when he visited Beijing in July last year to have a summit meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao. However, no specific details have yet emerged as to the outcome of the discussion.

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