Groups Report Another Tibetan Self-immolation

Published February 18, 2012 12:18PM (EST)

BEIJING (AP) — Another Tibetan Buddhist monk set himself on fire in western China amid a wave of such protests against China's handling of the vast Tibetan areas it rules, overseas groups said Saturday.

Tamchoe Sangpo set himself alight Friday during a prayer ceremony at Bongtak monastery in a remote region of Qinghai province, the advocacy group Free Tibet said. It gave no details about his current condition, although U.S.-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia said he had died.

The reports said Sangpo was around 40 years old and had been one of the monastery's leaders after returning from three years of study during the 1990s in India, where the exiled Dalai Lama resides. The reports said Sangpo had strongly objected to the presence of Chinese security agents who took up positions in the monastery last month, warning them of extreme acts if they did not leave.

A police officer in the county of Tianjun, where the monastery is located, and an official at the surrounding Haixi prefectural government said Saturday that they had no information about the case. Calls to Tianjun county government offices rang unanswered. The monastery's phone number was unlisted.

As many as 21 monks, nuns and ordinary Tibetans have set themselves on fire over the past year, and Free Tibet says at least 13 died from their injuries.

Such acts show no signs of abating, even as China ratchets up security and seals off Tibetan areas to outsiders, making it impossible to know what is actually happening inside.

China blames supporters of the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama for encouraging the self-immolations and anti-government protests that have led to the deaths of an unknown number of Tibetans at the hands of police. Authorities have reportedly detained and forced into re-education classes hundreds of Tibetans who went to India to receive religious instruction from the Dalai Lama, whom is accused by China of campaigning to split Tibet from the rest of China. The Dalai Lama says he is seeking only increased autonomy for Tibet.

A statement from the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile in the Indian town of Dharmsala said it was "deeply concerned and shocked" over the latest self-immolation.

The government-in-exile "wishes to remind all the Tibetan communities across the world and friends of Tibet to carry out any solidarity activities peacefully, in accordance with the laws of your country, and with dignity," said the statement, attributed to press officer Lobsang Choedak.

Tibetan activists say Tibetans are being pushed into ever-more radical acts because of intense pressure from China's police and military, who maintain a highly visible presence in towns and occupy monasteries while forcing monks to endure hours of political indoctrination at the expense of their religious studies.

Many Tibetans are also resentful over the migration of ethnic Chinese to their areas and what they see as economic marginalization and the snuffing out of their traditions. China says Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries, while many Tibetans say they effectively independent for most of that time.

The latest self-immolation comes at an especially sensitive time, ahead of Wednesday's traditional Tibetan new year celebrations and the anniversary of the March 14, 2008, riots in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, that left 22 people dead.

By Salon Staff

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