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Visiting Tibet Could Become Easier
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Visiting the Tibet Autonomous Region could become easier for foreigners because the local government is considering doing away with the laissez-passer system, a senior Tibet official said yesterday.

"The system may not be stamped out this year, but we are actively mulling its removal and will definitely do away with the practice at a proper time to make the entry of overseas visitors into Tibet more convenient," Chairman of the Tibet Qiangba Puncog said at a press conference in Beijing.

Another project that would attract more overseas visitors is a highway on Mount Qomolangma, known in the West as Mount Everest, Qiangba said. The road to the world's highest peak will be completed before August 2008, in time for the Beijing Olympic Games. The project will turn a 110-km rough road linking Tingri County of Xigaze Prefecture at the foot of the Qomolangma Base Camp into a blacktop highway fenced by undulating guardrails.

Some tourists who visited the Base Camp later complained about the poor and unsafe condition of the road, prompting the Tibetan authorities to "rebuild" it, Qiangba said. The highway will become the major route for tourists and mountaineers.

Listing the infrastructure projects in the region, Qiangba said environmental protection has always got priority whenever a big scheme has been planned to protect the region's fragile and complicated ecological system.

For instance, vast tracks of land along the landmark Qinghai-Tibet Railway have been effectively protected since it opened in July last year. Measures have been taken to preserve the ecology along the 1,956-km tracks, the first ever to link Tibet with the rest of the country.

A recent field investigation along the route found no evidence of damage to the environment, he said. The landscape and lakes have been well preserved and wildlife migration patterns have not changed.

The central government will invest 77.8 billion yuan (US$10.23 billion) on 180 projects and in implementing a range of preferential policies. Qiangba welcomed the central government's help and dismissed allegations that the Tibetan people would lose their culture to the Han way of life.

Of the 2.8 million people in Tibet, 92 percent are of Tibetan ethnic group, 5 percent are Hans and the rest are from other ethnic groups, Qiangba said.

"Their custom and traditional festivals remain unchanged even after millions of tourists have been there the region following the central government's massive investment in the region," said the official.

The Tibet is also considering allocating hundreds of millions of yuan for maintenance and renovation of world heritage sites and major cultural relics in the region in the next five years, the official said.

(China Daily June 21, 2007)

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