President Li Xiannian on Saturday accused the Dalai Lama, exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, of trying to undermine the national unity of China.

"We have respect for the Dalai Lama, but he does not respect China, his motherland," Li told a delegation from the Nepalese parliament. "He is actually trying to split the country up."Li's remarks, carried by the official Xinhua News Agency, were among the first by a senior Chinese official criticizing the Dalai Lama following bloody anti-Chinese riots in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa on March 5.

The Xinhua report did not say whether Li directly linked the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in northern India, to the riots. China blamed followers of the Dalai Lama for instigating similar pro-independence disturbances in Lhasa last September and October.

Li told the Nepalese visitors that the principle of unity rather than "crude tactics" must be used to settle problems concerning religion or nationality.

"The crude and leftist policies formulated during the Cultural Revolution have long since been corrected. The central authorities have adopted a policy of unity and mutual help. Another important principle is that the more than 50 nationalities in China should be united," he said.

During the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, leftists destroyed Tibetan temples and suppressed the languages and customs of Tibetans and other minority groups. Although Beijing has tried to make amends by restoring temples and promoting local autonomy, resentment against the Chinese remains strong.

The Dalai Lama fled to India with about 100,000 followers after an unsuccessful uprising against Chinese troops in 1959. He is still widely revered in Tibet.

China says one policeman was killed during the March 5 riots, which were led by monks shouting slogans in support of the Dalai Lama and independence. Unconfirmed reports from Western travelers in Lhasa have put the death toll much higher, with one traveler quoting Tibetans as saying 21 Tibetans and three police died in the clash.

The Dalai Lama, following the March 5 disturbances, issued a statement praising the courage of Tibetans who stood up to Chinese rule and said that "even in the face of mounting Tibetan resentment the Chinese leadership still fails to understand the true aspirations of the Tibetan people."

He also appealed to Tibetans to refrain from violence.