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China re-opened Tibet to foreign tourists yesterday after claiming victory over the worst unrest there in decades -- which led Beijing to all but seal off the area from the outside world.
China's crackdown in the wake of violent protests in Tibet in March drew international condemnation, and led to demonstrations in several countries that disrupted the Olympic torch relay ahead of the Beijing Games in August.
On the Tibet government website, spokesman Zha Nuo said the region would be re-opened for tourists -- and that having run the torch through the Tibetan capital Lhasa on Saturday without incident showed things were stable.
"After the quick quelling of the 'March 14' incident in Lhasa, we have realised a great transitional victory in the fight against separatists," Zha said.
"The successful Beijing Olympic torch relay in Lhasa on June 21 further proves that currently social stability in Tibet has been further consolidated."
Zha said two Swedish tourists would arrive in Lhasa on Wednesday, followed by four from Singapore on Sunday.
He did not mention when a ban on foreign journalists to the region would be lifted.
"Tibeten tourism is safe, Tibetans are friendly," he said in Tuesday comments.
Beijing kicked all tourists and foreigners out of Tibet after violent protests against Chinese rule erupted in mid-March, prompting a massive Chinese security clampdown.
China allowed mainland Chinese tour groups back in at the end of April, followed by visitors from Hong Kong and Macau in May, when it also began allowing tourists from Taiwan -- which China considers part of its territory.
"It is very hard for us to believe that China will allow free access to western tourists," Paul Bourke, the executive director of the Australia Tibet Council, told AFP.
"China has always seemed to go to great lengths to prevent Tibetans from having any contact with foreigners. We will be watching with interest to see how this so called 'opening' develops."
Burke said he continues to receive reports from Tibet about a huge military presence in the region and an ongoing police and military lockdown on Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.
Foreign tourists would likely to be watched closely and their movements would be restricted, Bourke said, citing what he said was the stage management of Saturday's torch relay in Lhasa.