2 Tibetans set selves on fire in latest protest

October 7, 2011 - 10:00 PM

BEIJING (AP) — Two Tibetan men set themselves on fire in southwest China in the latest self-immolation protest against the Chinese government, state media and a rights group reported Saturday.

The two former monks, 18-year-old Thongan and 20-year-old Tenzin, set themselves on fire in Aba county in Sichuan province's Aba prefecture Friday, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Xinhua cited an Aba county spokesman as saying the monks were rescued and were being treated at a local hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.

They are the fourth and fifth Tibetans to set themselves on fire in Aba county in the past two weeks. Aba prefecture has been the scene of numerous protests in past years against the Chinese government. Most are led by monks who are fiercely loyal to Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled the Himalayan region in 1959 amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule and is reviled by Beijing.

Overseas Tibet activist groups gave slightly different accounts of the self-immolations. The Washington, D.C.-based International Campaign for Tibet said the two men were named Choephel, 19, and Kayang, 18, and that they clasped their hands together as they set themselves alight.

It and the London-based Free Tibet group said there were unconfirmed reports that Choephel died at the site.

Free Tibet said that it has heard that pamphlets were being distributed saying that if Chinese policies at Kirti monastery and in Aba town continued, "many more people were prepared to give up their lives in protest."

Kirti monastery has seen recurring unrest against Chinese rule for the last three years. In March, Rigzin Phuntsog, a 21-year-old Kirti monk, died after setting himself on fire. Phuntsog's death was seen as a protest against China's heavy-handed controls on Tibetan Buddhism and provoked a standoff between security forces and monks.

As custodians of Tibet's Buddhist culture, monks are especially sensitive to strict Chinese controls over monasteries that they say take precious time away from religious study and practice.

Kirti monastery is under tight guard by security forces who have been accused by overseas pro-Tibetan groups of beating onlookers and detaining monks. The area is off-limits to foreign journalists.

In June, China rejected pressure from a U.N. human rights panel to provide information about more than 300 monks from Kirti whose whereabouts it said have been unknown since the monastery was raided in April.