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China will severely punish officials in Tibet who support the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader and Nobel laureate, the region's top Communist leader said according to state media reports Wednesday.
Chen Quanguo, Tibet's Communist party chief, vowed to root out officials who support the Dalai Lama and to quash separatist activities in the region, according to a front-page report in the Tibet Daily, the ruling party's regional mouthpiece.
"Party members, especially leading cadres, at all levels must safeguard the unity of the motherland," Chen was cited as saying.
"Cadres who harbour fantasies about the 14th Dalai Group, follow the 14th Dalai Group, and participate in supporting separatist infiltration sabotage activities, will be strictly and severely punished according to the law and party disciplinary measures."
The current Dalai Lama is the 14th to hold the title.
Chen's comments came after the head of an anti-corruption inspection team from the Communist party's internal watchdog said officials in Tibet must concentrate on fighting separatism and maintaining social stability, according to the state-run Global Times.
The Dalai Lama, branded a terrorist by Beijing, fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule and has lived in exile ever since.
More than 130 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 in protest at what they describe as Beijing's religious and cultural repression, according to Radio Free Asia, which is supported by the US government.
China accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking to split Tibet from the rest of China and of fomenting unrest in the region.
The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, catapulting him into the global spotlight, and in the decade that followed he was courted by US presidents and Hollywood stars alike as he criss-crossed the world campaigning for greater autonomy for his homeland.
But a quarter of a century later some Western leaders are turning their backs on the Tibetan spiritual leader -- sometimes reluctantly -- under pressure from China, a rising power and the world's second-largest economy.
A summit for Nobel peace prizewinners set to take place in South Africa was cancelled last month after he was denied a visa, and during a visit to Norway government officials declined to meet him so as not to offend Beijing.