updated 3/8/2007 10:44:00 AM ET 2007-03-08T15:44:00

The Dalai Lama is unlikely ever to return to Tibet unless he completely abandons the idea of independence for the remote Himalayan region, Tibet’s Chinese-appointed leader said Thursday.

“I think if the Dalai Lama cannot truly abandon his ideas of Tibetan independence in word and in deed and fully abandon his independence activities, then his hope of returning to Tibet will be slim,” said Champa Phuntsok, chairman of the Tibetan government.

China has accused the Dalai Lama of waging a clandestine campaign for formal independence, though he says he wants only greater autonomy in hopes of preserving Tibet’s Buddhist culture.

Phuntsok is among the highest-ranking ethnic Tibetans in the region’s government but ultimate power lies with its Communist Party secretary, a member of China’s dominant Han ethnic group.

Phuntsok and other members of the region’s government were in Beijing to attend the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, China’s ceremonial legislature.

The Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese rule, is still widely revered in Tibet.

“Forty-eight years has passed since then, and in that time the Dalai Lama has done nothing beneficial for the Tibetan people and his motherland,” Phuntsok said. “The central government has done everything it can to engage him.”

Phuntsok said China has maintained regular contacts with the Dalai Lama through his personal representatives and planned to continue to do so.

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