Gyalo Thondup, elder brother of the Dalai Lama, left Hong Kong on July 1 for a three-month trip to Tibet, which will take him to Lhasa and areas in Amdo, northeastern Tibet.

Quoting “sources close to Gyalo Thondup,” Radio Free Asia (RFA) said that during the visit Thondup “hopes for frank talks with Chinese and Tibetan authorities about China’s often heavy-handed treatment of the Himalayan territory.” RFA said the sources asked not to be named.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said on July 2 that Thondup was granted permission “to visit his relatives in China in a private capacity.”

Liu referred to Thondup by his Chinese name, Jijiale Dunzhu; He was educated in China before the 1949 communist revolution.

Thondup has paid several visits to China in the past, meeting in 1979 with China’s late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. He was last in Lhasa in 1952 and in Amdo, where he and his siblings were born, in 1950, according to RFA.

According to RFA, Thondup will travel to Beijing and then visit Lhasa from July 3 to 12 and then go to Amdo. He is also expected to visit Eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang) during this trip, which is expected to last about three months.

The news was first broadcast by RFA’s correspondent in Kathmandu on its Tibetan service (Amdo dialect) and by its main Tibetan service on June 25, 2002.

RFA interviewed Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche, Chairman of the Tibetan Cabinet, for his comments. Rinpoche told RFA that Thondup had visited China in the past and that he had heard that Thondup was making another private visit. He said he had nothing more than that.

RFA said there was no comment from the Chinese Embassy in Washington.