Updated at 11:20 a.m. EST on 11-19-2012
Two more Tibetans self-immolated in restive Rebgong county in Qinghai province on Saturday as protests against Chinese rule intensified, drawing heavy security presence and a warning from Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama said the situation in Tibet is getting "quite serious" and asked the Chinese leadership to embrace "freedom and justice" and stop using force to suppress the "non-violent" struggle of the Tibetans.
The new self-immolations in Rebgong on Saturday raised to 76 the number of Tibetans who have burned themselves in protest against Chinese rule since February 2009. Sixty-one of the self-immolators have died.
Rebgong itself has seen eight self-immolations over the past 10 days.
In the first incident, a mother of two, Chakmo Kyi, burned herself and died at the doorstep of the tax office in Rebgong's capital Rongwo at around 4 p.m., triggering a clash for her charred body by local residents and Chinese security forces, sources said, citing local contacts.
Two hours later, thousands of monks and local people gathered at a cremation site in Rongwo for her funeral and chanted prayers for the long life of the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India, the sources said.
"When Chinese security forces arrived to take away her body, local Tibetans in large numbers repossessed the body from the hands of the security forces," Sonam, a Tibetan living in exile who has contacts in the region, told RFA's Tibetan service.
"After that, monks of Rongwo monastery and local Tibetans, estimated at thousands, took the body to the Dhongya-la cremation site. Many Chinese officials were present and observed the large gathering," Sonam said.
In the second self-immolation, 24-year-old Sangdag Tsering burned himself at 7 p.m in front of the local government office in the Dhokar Mo township, hours after local authorities issued an order restricting Tibetans from paying respects to self-immolators or grieving with their family members.
“He had lamented to his wife and close friends that there is no freedom in Tibet, they are unable to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is not allowed to return to Tibet....and there is no point for him now to stay alive," a source said.
About a week ago, Sangdag Tsering sent a poem highlighting the Tibetan cause via email, the source said.
Chinese security agents attempted to put out the fire on him but he died on the spot, according to the source.
The Tibetan self-immolations had intensified over the last few weeks, especially during the 18th Congress of the ruling Chinese Communist Party which endorsed a once-in-a-decade leadership transition on Thursday.
"The extent of protests, which are now happening on a daily basis, is clear evidence of Tibetans’ absolute rejection of Chinese rule," said London-based advocacy group Free Tibet's Director Stephanie Brigden.
“How many more protests will China try to crush before the [ruling Chinese] Communist Party recognizes Tibet belongs to Tibetans? How many more Tibetans will the world watch die in this way before clear, strong steps are taken to resolve this crisis?” she said in a statement.
Amid the rising number of self-immolations, the Dalai Lama on Saturday said Tibet is "passing through a difficult period," according to the Central Tibetan Administration—the Tibetan exile government based in India's hill town Dharamsala.
"Things are quite serious in Tibet," the Dalai Lama said at a meeting in Dharamsala with more than 200 members of the Tibet Support Groups from across the world.
"There is a problem and the problem is neither good for the Tibetans nor the Chinese. Use of force will never bring a satisfactory solution to the problem," he said.
Free Tibet said there was a heavy security presence in Rongwo.
At least 20 trucks, each with 20 armed police standing in the back, are stationed at intersections throughout the town, the group said.
There are reports of cars, each with about five government officials inside, positioned every 20 paces along most streets, monitoring the population, Free Tibet said.
The Central Tibetan Administration this week urged the Chinese government to immediately remove the security forces from Rongwo monastery and other areas in Rebgong to avert "further unfortunate incidents."
Reported by RFA's Tibetan service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Sangdag Tsering's name.