Teenage Tibetan Nun Sets Herself On Fire In China

Published February 13, 2012 4:00AM (EST)

BEIJING (AP) — An 18-year-old Tibetan nun has set herself on fire in western China in the latest such protest against Beijing's handling of the vast ethnic Tibetan regions it rules, an overseas activist group said.

Free Tibet said in a statement Sunday that the nun had died after setting set herself ablaze Saturday. The young woman, identified as Tenzin Choedon, was a nun at the Mamae Nunnery in Sichuan province's Aba prefecture, the group said.

It said Choedon shouted slogans of protest against the Chinese government before setting herself on fire at a junction close to the nunnery.

"Soldiers and police came immediately and took her away," Free Tibet said. "Soldiers then surrounded the nunnery and sealed it off."

As many as 18 monks, nuns and ordinary Tibetans have set themselves on fire over the past year, and Free Tibet says at least 12 died from their injuries.

The official Xinhua News Agency confirmed Choedon's death in a report from the Sichuan capital of Chengdu, saying she died on the way to a hospital. It did not immediately give any other details.

Activist groups say the self-immolations are a protest against China's policies and a call for the return of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetans' spiritual leader who fled from the Himalayan region to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

Government and police officials reached by telephone in Aba said they knew nothing about any self-immolation and hung up. There was no number publicly listed for the nunnery.

A statement by two Tibetan monks exiled in India, Losang Yeshe and Kanyag Tsering, distributed by the London-based International Campaign for Tibet said Choedon was the eldest of four children and a good student.

The Mamae nunnery has a history of showing fierce loyalty to the Dalai Lama. In October, a 20-year-old nun from the same monastery died after setting herself on fire and a group of nuns at Mamae staged a protest march in 2008, carrying a portrait of the Dalai Lama, which led to mass detentions and prison terms for some of the nuns, the ICT statement said.

The Chinese government has condemned the self-immolations and says an upsurge in violence in Tibetan areas, including some deadly clashes between Tibetan protesters and security forces, are being instigated by forces outside the country wanting to separate Tibet from China.

China has vilified the Dalai Lama for more than a decade, accusing him of a campaign to split the Himalayan region from the rest of China. The Dalai Lama says he is only seeking increased autonomy for Tibet.

The last few months have been the region's most violent period since 2008, when deadly rioting in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, spread to Tibetan areas in adjoining provinces. China responded by flooding the area with troops and closing Tibetan regions entirely to foreigners for about a year.

Western reporters trying to visit that part of Sichuan in the last several weeks have been turned away by security forces.

China says Tibet has been under its rule for centuries, but many Tibetans say the region was functionally independent for most of that time. Anger over cultural and religious restrictions is deepened by a sense that Tibetans have been marginalized economically by an influx of migrants from elsewhere in China.

By Salon Staff

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