Tibetan youths self-immolate in protest at China rule

Funeral of monk who set himself on fire, at Kirti monastery on 19 March 2011 (Image: Free Tibet)
Image caption The Kirti monastery has been the scene of repeated protests in recent months

Two Tibetan teenagers have set themselves on fire near a monastery in China's Sichuan province in a protest against Chinese rule, activists say.

The UK-based lobby group Free Tibet said one of the youths had died.

The pair were both thought to be former monks at the Kirti monastery, which has already seen several anti-China protests this year where monks have set themselves alight.

Free Tibet says dozens more monks appear to be ready to kill themselves.

The two teenagers, Choepel and Khayang, are reported to have set themselves on fire on Friday morning in the street in Aba, known as Ngaba in Tibetan, where there is a large ethnic Tibetan community.

Free Tibet said in a statement 19-year-old Choepel had been expelled from the monastery after another monk set himself alight in March this year.

It was not clear why 18-year-old Khayang had left, although young Buddhist men sometimes choose to spend a set period as a monk.

"They folded their hands in supplicatory gestures and shouted protests against Chinese rule," Kanyak Tsering, a monk at a monastery in Dharamsala, India, told Radio Free Asia.

He said police arrived to put out the flames and take them to hospital.

"Even as they were being dragged, Khayang was seen raising his fist in the air and shouting," said Kanyak Tsering.

A woman at the public security bureau in the town told Reuters news agency: "Nothing like that happened here. I am not aware of the situation."

'Legal education'

The Kirti monastery has been the scene of repeated protests against the rule of Tibet by Beijing, and has been subject to a crackdown by security forces.

Three monks there have been given lengthy prison sentences for helping another to self-immolate, while the remaining monks have been ordered to undergo "legal education".

Beijing said the monks have been "engaged in acts aimed at disturbing social order", including vandalism and self-immolation.

Free Tibet said there were rumours circulating in Ngaba that dozens of monks "are now ready to sacrifice their lives", and that pamphlets are being distributed saying people are prepared to die in protest.

"It is now evident there are many courageous young Tibetans who are determined to draw global attention to one of the world's greatest and longest-standing human rights crises no matter the cost to themselves," said the group's director Stephanie Brigden.

"The international community can no longer stand silent in the face of the ongoing violent Chinese state repression of the Tibetan people, it's time to stand up and be counted."

Many Tibetans have complained about the growing domination of ethnic Han Chinese in Tibet, and accuse the government of trying to dilute their culture.

But China, which blames Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama for the unrest, says it has invested heavily in Tibet and has generated significant improvements in people's living standards.

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