BEIJING China will build a second railway line connecting restive and remote Tibet with others parts of China that will link Tibetan capital Lhasa with the southwestern city of Chengdu, the government said on Saturday.
Tibet is a highly sensitive region, not just because of continued opposition by many Tibetans to Chinese control, but because of the region's strategic position next to neighbours India, Nepal and Myanmar.
In 2006, China opened the railway to Lhasa, which passes spectacular icy peaks on the Tibetan highlands, reaching altitudes as high as 5,000 m (16,400 ft) above sea level, as part of government development efforts.
Critics of the railway, including exiled Tibetans and rights groups, say it has spurred an influx of long-term migrants who threaten Tibetans' cultural integrity, which rests on Buddhist beliefs and a traditional herding lifestyle.
The new railway was announced in a draft of China's new five-year development plan released at the opening of the annual meeting of parliament and carried by the official Xinhua news agency.
It gave no other details.
Xinhua said it will take about 15 hours for trains to travel between Lhasa and Chengdu.
"We hope that the railway will be completed as early as possible. It will provide new momentum for our development, especially the tourism," Wangdui, mayor of Tibet's Nyingchi city, where the new railway will traverse, told Xinhua.
The Chinese government consistently denies any rights abuses or cultural disrespect in Tibet, saying Beijing's rule has bought much needed development to what was a poor and backward region.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Eric Meijer)
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