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Apr 22, 12:54 AM EDT

Tibetan gov't-in-exile urges pressure on China for answers on missing Buddhist leader

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DHARMSALA, India (AP) -- The Tibetan government-in-exile wants supporters to help pressure China to release the 11th Panchan Lama, a Buddhist leader who is believed to have been in Chinese custody since his disappearance as a child 20 years ago, the government's spokesman said Tuesday.

Exiles say Chinese authorities abducted Gedhun Choekyi Nyima on May 17, 1995, when he was 6 years old. He had been recognized three days earlier by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchan Lama.

Soon after the boy went missing, China appointed another boy, Gyaincain Norbu, as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. Tibetans believe the abduction was an effort by China to control the choice of the next Dalai Lama, as the Panchen Lama plays a key role in recognizing the Dalai Lama's reincarnation.

The spokesman of the Tibetan government-in-exile said it would ramp up efforts to get information on the Panchan Lama's whereabouts. "It's not a political issue, but a religious one, and it concerns the fundamental way of Tibetan life," Tashi Phuntsok said.

He said the government-in-exile would name May 17 as the "International Solidarity Day with Tibet," and ask supporters to write to their governments and ask that pressure be put on China for answers.

The government-in-exile is based in the north Indian hill town of Dharmsala, where the Dalai Lama has lived since fleeing Tibet in 1959 when Chinese troops marched in. China has since maintained that Tibet is an integral part of its territory.

The Dalai Lama is the 14th person to be Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual leader, a tradition stretching back 500 years, with each Dalai Lama chosen as a child by senior monks through a series of mystical signs. Each is believed to be the reincarnation of his predecessor.

Many observers believe his death will lead to rival Dalai Lamas - one appointed by Beijing, which rules Tibet, and one by senior monks loyal to the current Dalai Lama.

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