A Tibetan woman set herself ablaze and died Wednesday in China's southwestern Sichuan province, exile sources said, as a wave of self-immolations against Beijing's rule intensifies.
The self-immolation came three days after two young Tibetan men burned themselves in central Lhasa in the first such case in the heavily-guarded capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Rikyo, a 33-year-old mother of three children, torched herself on Wednesday afternoon near a monastery in Dzamthang (in Chinese, Rangtang) county in the Ngaba (Aba) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, the epicenter of the burnings which began in February 2009.
Her self-immolation brings to 38 the number of burnings so far protesting Chinese rule in Tibetan-populated areas and calling for the return of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
“Today a woman named Rikyo self-immolated in protest against Chinese rule and died," said Tsangyang Gyatso, head of the Jonang Buddhist Association in India's Dharamsala hill town, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile.
"It happened around 3 p.m. close to Jonang Monastery in Dzamthang," he told RFA.
Same self-immolation site
It was the same site where two Tibetan cousins self-immolated about a month ago to protest Chinese rule.
"Rikyo's body is being held at the Jonang monastery even though the police arrived and demanded she be taken away.” Tsangyang Gyatso said.
Rikyo was from Tsangde village in the Barma subdivision of Dzamthang county. Her father's name was given as Chuglo, and her mother's name as Rinlha.
Dzamthang was among at least three Sichuan counties where bloody protests occurred in January in which rights and exile groups believe at least six were killed and 60 injured, some critically.
Nearly all the self-immolations so far have taken place in Sichuan and in two other Tibetan-populated provinces in western China—Qinghai and Gansu—as Tibetans question Chinese policies which they say are discriminatory and have robbed them of their rights.
Sunday's self-immolations in Lhasa, however, suggest that the protest movement to restore Tibetan rights is gaining momentum internally, much to the chagrin of the Chinese authorities who have portrayed the burnings as isolated incidents fueled by exile groups, according to experts.
"The [Lhasa] self-immolations show that the protests are now widespread and have covered all of the Tibetan region, from the Tibet Autonomous Region to the parts of Tibet that were merged with the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, and Gansu," said Mohan Malik, professor of Asian security at the Hawaii-based Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.
Tibetans in Lhasa mostly stayed indoors this week amid a security crackdown following the weekend self-immolations, residents said.
Checkpoints manned by Chinese security forces have been set up at key areas near the popular Jokhang temple located on Barkhor Square, the site of Sunday's self-immolations, and Tibetans passing through them are thoroughly screened, they said.
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.
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.
Reported by RFA's Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.