updated 4/3/2008 3:26:03 PM ET 2008-04-03T19:26:03

The Dalai Lama's special envoy told lawmakers Thursday that China must bear full responsibility for recent violence and suffering in Tibet and said his homeland is being "brutally occupied."

"The situation today is grim," Lodi Gyari said at a Congressional Human Rights Caucus briefing.

Gyari, who represents the exiled leader of Tibet's Buddhists, called on senior lawmakers to make an "urgent visit" to Tibet to help show the world the misery there and to prevent China from "marginalizing" Tibetans.

Since China's crackdown last month on the largest anti-government protests in Tibet in almost two decades, Gyari said, Tibet has become, "in every sense, an occupied nation, brutally occupied."

He called for a permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in Lhasa, Tibet's capital, and an international investigation into the violence. Gyari also expressed disappointment in the United Nations, saying China's powerful influence, as a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, was causing the U.N. to "shut its eye on Tibet."

China is working hard to contain violence ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games in August. It has sent thousands of police and army troops to Tibet to maintain an edgy peace, hunt down protest leaders and cordon-off Buddhist monasteries whose monks led protests that began peacefully on March 10 before turning violent four days later.

Chinese officials have put the death toll at 22. But Tibetan exiles say nearly 140 people were killed.

Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, of orchestrating the violence to sabotage the Olympics and create an independent state. The Dalai Lama regularly says he wants "real autonomy," not independence for Tibet. He says Tibetans, not Chinese, must be allowed to make important religious, cultural and economic decisions.

Gyari said the Dalai Lama does not support a boycott of the Olympics, which he believes could be a source of pride for ordinary Chinese. But, Gyari said, it would be "deliberately provocative and insulting" to Tibetans if the Olympic torch is relayed through Tibet.

Republican Rep. Chris Smith, a frequent critic of China's human rights, compared the Beijing Olympics to Adolph Hitler's 1936 games in Berlin. He called on international aid groups to be allowed to visit Tibetan prisoners, who he said he feared would be tortured by Chinese officials.

Senators send letter to China
Also Thursday, a group of 27 senators said they have sent a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao urging direct talks with the Dalai Lama.

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., said in a statement that it would be a powerful symbol of the Olympic motto, "One World, One Dream," "to have President Hu Jintao and the Dalai Lama jointly attend the opening ceremony of the games, united in their commitment to promote genuine reconciliation on the Tibetan plateau."

The crackdown in Tibet is a delicate matter for President Bush. His administration wants to be seen as a champion of human rights and has called for restraint in Tibet. Bush himself bestowed Congress' highest civilian honor on the Dalai Lama last year, infuriating Beijing.

Bush says, however, that he will attend the Olympics in August. The administration is wary of angering China, a growing economic and military power that the United States needs to manage nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea.

Gyari said the recent violence was partly a reflection of Tibetans' feelings of hopelessness. But, he said, Beijing "must bear full responsibility" for pushing Tibetans "to the limit."

The Dalai Lama has been based in India since fleeing his Himalayan homeland in 1959 during a failed uprising against Chinese rule. China claims Tibet has been its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of that period.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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