Addressing followers on the anniversary of a 1959 uprising in Tibet against Chinese rule, the Dalai Lama said his envoys who recently returned from talks with officials in China, had conveyed his desire to the Chinese government.

"My envoys reiterated my wish to visit China on a pilgrimage," he said on Friday in Dharmsala, the seat of his government-in-exile.

"As a country with a long history of Buddhism, China has many sacred pilgrim sites," he said. "As well as visiting the pilgrim sites, I hope I will be able to see for myself the changes and developments in the People's Republic of China."

Public request

The Dalai Lama is understood to have conveyed the request to Chinese officials earlier to go back and visit, but this is the first time he has spoken of it in public.

In Beijing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman reached by telephone had no immediate response.

"As well as visiting the pilgrim sites, I hope I will be able to see for myself the changes and developments in the People's Republic of China"

Dalai Lama

China has claimed Tibet as part of its territory for centuries, and its forces occupied the region in 1950. Branded a separatist, the Dalai Lama fled to the north Indian city of Dharmsala in 1959 where he formed a government-in-exile. He hasn't been back since.

The Dalai Lama has repeatedly said he wants autonomy, not independence, for Tibet.

"It is a legitimate, just and reasonable demand that reflects the aspirations of Tibetans, both in and outside Tibet," he said. "This demand is based on logic of seeing future as more important than the past."

Tibet talks

Tibetan and Chinese officials met last month in southern China. Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, the Dalai Lama's chief representative, led a four-man team during their 15-23 February trip, during which the envoy said there was a growing understanding between the two sides, though fundamental differences persisted.

The envoys have attended four rounds of talks with China since 2002. Specific details of those discussions have not been released, but they are believed to have focused on the Dalai Lama's demands for more autonomy for Tibet to protect its unique Buddhist culture.

"I have stated time and again that I do not wish to seek Tibet's separation from China, but that I will seek its future within the framework of the Chinese constitution," the Dalai Lama said.