Tibetan Communist who urged reconciliation with Dalai Lama dies

March 31, 2014

(Phuntso Wangye, former Tibetan Communist leader, poses for a picture at his home in Beijing, in this undated image made available on March 31, 2014. REUTERS/New Century Press, Hong Kong)

Phuntso Wangye, a veteran Tibetan Communist leader who became an outspoken critic of Beijing’s hardline policies towards the Himalayan region, died on Sunday, his son said. He was 91.

“He left this morning,” Phuntso’s son, Phunkham, told Reuters by telephone. “Before his death, he was a Communist Party member. After his death, we have invited lamas to pray (for his soul) according to traditional Tibetan culture.”

Phuntso, who had been in hospital in Beijing since July, had recently developed lung problems.

Born in 1922 in the Tibetan county of Batang, now part of China’s province of Sichuan, Phuntso founded the Tibetan Communist Party and launched a series of guerrilla uprisings against Nationalist Chinese rule until joining forces with the Chinese Communist Party in 1949.

He led troops of China’s People’s Liberation Army into the remote mountain region in 1951 and served as translator for Chinese leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai during talks with the Dalai Lama in 1954. Phuntso was later purged and spent 18 years in solitary confinement before being rehabilitated in 1978.

Phuntso had showed that one “could be a true Communist” while at the same time taking pride in his Tibetan heritage, the Dalai Lama said in a statement on Sunday, adding that he was deeply saddened by the news.

“Despite his firm upholding of Communist ideals, the Chinese authorities regarded Phuntsog Wangyal’s dedication to his Tibetan identity in a negative light, as a result of which he spent 18 years in prison,” the Dalai Lama said.

Read the full story by Benjamin Kang Lim and David Stanway here.

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