BEIJING - Tibet is an inseparable part of China's "sacred" territory, and religious figures should promote national unity and ethnic harmony, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said during a rare visit to a region that is a focus for international rights concerns.
Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950 in what China officially terms a peaceful liberation, and has ruled it with an iron fist even since.
It is one of Beijing's most sensitive territorial issues, and has been hit by repeated anti-Chinese protests, although the region has fairly been quiet since the last large-scale demonstrations in 2008.
China routinely denies charges from rights groups and exiles of repression and says its rule ended serfdom and brought prosperity to what was a backward region, and that it fully respects the rights of the Tibetan people.
Li, who visited Tibet from July 25 to July 27, went to two major sites connected to Tibetan Buddhism, state news agency Xinhua said late on Saturday.
At the Jokhang Temple, which was damaged by a fire in February, Li inspected a monument dating back to the eighth century which marks an alliance between Tibet and the Tang Dynasty, Xinhua said.
"Since ancient times Tibet has been an inseparable part of the sacred territory of the motherland," the report cited Li as saying in front of the monument.
Li said he hoped religious figures can protect national unity and make contributions to ethnic harmony, he added.