Two Tibetans set themselves on fire Monday in protest against Chinese rule in Ngaba county in Sichuan province, triggering clashes between local Tibetans and police that resulted in a Tibetan beaten to death, sources said.
Amid the rising tensions, some sources said there was a third self-immolation in the county, located in the Ngaba (Aba, in Chinese) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, but the incident could not be immediately confirmed.
The two confirmed self-immolations on Monday evening set the stage for bigger protests by Tibetans and a heavy police presence.
Lungtok, a monk from the restive Kirti monastery in Ngaba, and another Tibetan, believed to be a layperson and identified as Tashi, torched themselves at around 6:00 p.m. local time to highlight their opposition to Chinese rule in Tibetan-populated areas, a Tibetan source in the area told RFA.
"A large contingent of police and armed PSB [Public Security Bureau] personnel arrived at the site of the self-immolation and imposed stern restrictions in the area," the source said.
"The local Tibetans gathered in the area clashed with police and the situation became very tense. One Tibetan died from being beaten by the police."
There were no immediate details of the condition of the two self-immolators who, according to witnesses, were whisked away by Chinese security forces to a nearby hospital, sources inside Tibet said.
"I heard about the two Tibetans who self-immolated today around 6:00 p.m. and one was a monk," a second source said, speaking to RFA from the Tibet Autonomous Region.
The source added, "Another monk also self-immolated around 8:00 p.m. today but details on him are not known."
Information about the possible third self-immolation could not be confirmed with residents in the area amid the heightened security.
"A large number of Tibetans are protesting against the Chinese authorities and the situation is grim and serious," the second source said.
Exiled monk Lobsang Yeshi of the sister Kirti monastery in India's hill town of Dharamsala, while confirming the two self-immolations, said he had also heard unconfirmed reports of a third burning protest.
"It is true that two [Tibetans] did self-immolate in Ngaba and we are seeking more details. We also heard that a third Tibetan self-immolated and protested but the details are not available," he told RFA.
Including the two confirmed incidents on Monday, 49 Tibetans in total have self-immolated since the current wave of fiery protests began in February 2009, with nearly all of the protests taking place in Tibetan-populated provinces in western China.
Nearly all of them protested against Chinese rule and called for the return of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader who is living in exile in Dharamsala.
Last week, three Tibetans died in self-immolation protests — two in Ngaba and one in the southern part of Kanlho (Gannan, in Chinese) prefecture in Gansu province.
Tibetan groups say the wave of self-immolation protests will continue until the underlying human rights and other problems in the Tibetan-populated areas are addressed by the Chinese authorities.
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.