Two young Tibetan monks set themselves on fire in Lhasa Sunday in protest against Chinese rule—the first self-immolations reported in the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, according to sources.
The monks burned themselves in front of Jokhang Temple in central Lhasa—reputedly the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Tibetan pilgrims—and were swiftly bundled away by security forces who arrived in several vehicles and cleared the area within 15 minutes, the sources said.
The identities and other personal details of the monks and their condition were not immediately available.
The two were believed to be among a few Tibetan youths who gathered to protest against Chinese rule outside the temple.
“The security forces arrived immediately and put out the fire and all the tourists in the area were cordoned off from the site. Within 15 minutes, the area was cleaned and not a trace of the incident was left at the site,” an eyewitness told RFA.
“The flames were huge and witnesses are presuming that they [the two] were dead in the fire,” one Tibetan source living in exile said, citing contacts in the region.
“Lhasa city is now filled with police and para-military forces and the situation is very tense,” the source said.
Another source in Lhasa said tensions gripped the tourist area around the Jokhang Temple and nearby Potala Palace, the former residence of the Dalai Lama, amid heightened security following the self-immolations.
“All those who pass through the main ground in front of the Potala Palace are being searched and there is much tension,” the source in Lhasa said.
Unconfirmed reports said Tibetans gathered to protest after the burnings and that there were more arrests.
This is the second self-immolation incident in the Tibetan Autonomous Region as Tibetans protest against Beijing’s rule and call for the return of Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, exile sources said.
Prior to the incident, there had been 35 Tibetan self-immolations reported since March 2009. Thirty-four of them had occurred in Tibetan-populated Chinese provinces.
The self-immolations came as Tibetans flock to Lhasa to mark the auspicious Buddhist month of Saka Dawa commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha.
The Chinese authorities had issued directives barring government employees and retirees and students from participating in the religious activities for the whole month, sources in Lhasa said.
“Today is the sixth day of the auspicious Tibetan Buddhist month of Saka Dawa and several hundred Tibetans came out in the city and prayed and circumambulated the temple and Potala Palace,” the eyewitness to Sunday’s self-immolations said.
Self-immolation protests which intensified over the last year had also sparked demonstrations in Tibetan-populated Chinese provinces criticizing Chinese policies, which Tibetans say are discriminatory and have robbed them of their rights, and calling for greater freedom and for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.
The Dalai Lama has blamed Beijing’s “totalitarian” and “unrealistic” policies for the wave of self-immolations, saying the time has come for the Chinese authorities to take a serious approach to resolving the Tibetan problem.
He called on the Chinese leadership to adopt a “holistic view” in resolving the Tibetan crisis instead of a “self-centered” approach backed by power and wealth to suppress the Tibetans.
Chinese authorities however have labeled the self-immolators as terrorists, outcasts, criminals, and mentally ill people, and have blamed the Dalai Lama for encouraging the burnings.
The self-immolation protests have resulted in a Chinese security clampdown in the Tibetan-populated provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu, as well as in the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Aside from detaining hundreds of monks from monasteries, Chinese authorities have jailed scores of Tibetan writers, artists, singers, and educators for asserting Tibetan national identity and civil rights, exile sources said.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.