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updated 7/1/2008 7:40:15 AM ET 2008-07-01T11:40:15

Secrecy surrounded the start of talks between envoys of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government on Tuesday aimed at easing tensions following anti-government riots in Tibet in March.

Chinese officials would not say where the meeting would be held, what the agenda was, or even when it would start.

The talks follow informal talks held in early May in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen that ended with an offer from Beijing for future discussions.

Samdhong Rinpoche, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharmsala, India, said that envoys Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen would represent the Dalai Lama.

"His holiness the Dalai Lama has instructed the envoys to make every effort to bring about tangible progress to alleviate the difficult situation for Tibetans in their homeland," a statement from the Dalai Lama's office said.

The talks were confirmed Monday by Gao Fei, director of the Propaganda Office of the United Front Work Department, which is hosting the meeting. Gao was not available to comment Tuesday, and staffers in his office said no one else could answer questions.

'Relevant dialogue'
"Officials from the central government authority will have contact with the private representatives of the Dalai Lama, Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said, adding that he had no other details.

"I hope the relevant dialogue and contact can make positive progress," he said.

Spokesman Thubten Samphel said Tuesday that the government in exile would not comment. Rinpoche was expected to comment only after the talks end on Wednesday.

Some experts believe Beijing is agreeing to the meetings to ease criticism ahead of the Olympic Games that begin Aug. 8 in the Chinese capital.

Heavy-handed tactics?
China has been accused of using heavy-handed tactics in quelling the anti-government riots and protests in Tibet. Beijing says 22 people died in the violence in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, while foreign Tibet supporters say many times that number were killed in the protests and a subsequent government crackdown.

Pressure has been growing on both sides to improve relations in the wake of the protests that also hit other areas of China with Tibetan populations in March.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who left open the possibility of boycotting the opening ceremony soon after the Chinese crackdown in Tibet, said this week he would attend if the Tibet talks made progress.

Liu said that any contact between Chinese officials and representatives of the Dalai Lama was strictly an internal matter.

"We oppose ... connecting Tibet-related issues with the Beijing Olympics and oppose politicizing the Olympics," he said.

The Dalai Lama is lauded in much of the world as a figure of moral authority, but Beijing demonizes the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and says he seeks to destroy China's sovereignty by pushing for independence for Tibet.

China has governed Tibet with an iron fist since communist troops marched into the Himalayan region in the 1950s. The Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid a failed uprising in 1959, has said he wants some form of autonomy that would allow Tibetans to freely practice their culture, language and religion.

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

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