BEIJING (AP) — Three more people have set themselves on fire to protest China's policies toward Tibetans in a politically sensitive area that already has seen ethnic violence this year, a media report and an activist group said.
The report from the U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia said Sunday the three set themselves on fire Friday in Seda country in Sichuan province. It says one person died and the others are in serious condition.
A woman who answered the phone at the county government office Sunday said "no such thing happened." Like many Chinese officials, she refused to give her name.
Calls to county police rang unanswered, while a man at the Ganzi prefecture public security office, which oversees the county, said he had not heard of the incident. He also refused to give his name.
If confirmed, the incidents would bring to at least 19 the number of monks, nuns and lay Tibetans who have set themselves on fire, mostly in traditionally Tibetan areas of Sichuan province. Most have chanted for Tibetan freedom and the return of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
The Radio Free Asia report quoted three sources as confirming the incidents, which they said occurred in a remote village near the border with the neighboring province of Qinghai. It did not say if the people who set themselves on fire did so as a group or separately.
"The survivors are seriously injured though the details are difficult to obtain due to the shutting down of communication lines in the area," one source told Radio Free Asia.
The London-based activist group Free Tibet also reported the incidents. It did not provide any further details in a statement, and added that there have been substantial increases in security forces in the area recently.
It has been difficult to get news from the area because the government limited communications following bloody protests last month in Sichuan where Tibetans protested against what they say are hard-line Chinese policies.
Tibetan activist groups say at least six Tibetans were killed in the clashes between police and protesters when police fired on them. The Chinese government says two rioters died and 24 police and firefighters were injured when rock-wielding Tibetan separatists attacked police stations.
The violence and self-immolations come as China enters a sensitive period: The top leaders of the ruling Communist Party will change by the end of this year.
The government has condemned self-immolations and says recent violence in several counties in Sichuan, including Seda, was instigated by forces outside the country wanting to separate Tibet from China.
This has 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.