Chinese authorities in Tibetan areas of the country are sending in additional security forces and imposing new restrictions in the region after several Tibetans were shot dead by security forces in bloody protests this week, residents and exile Tibetans say.
Netizens posted photographs online of army trucks speeding along a highway in the direction of Tibetan regions of China's Sichuan province.
In the first incident in Draggo (in Chinese, Luhuo) county on Monday, up to six Tibetans were believed killed and more than 30 others injured when security forces fired on protesters, local sources said. Chinese authorities said only one Tibetan was shot dead.
In the other incident in Serthar (in Chinese, Seda) county on Tuesday, local sources said as many as five Tibetans were shot dead and 40 others were injured. Beijing said only one Tibetan was killed.
One netizen wrote on the popular Sina Weibo microblogging service： "As I was on duty today, I saw a large number of armed police vehicles of every kind, fully equipped, heading along the Chengdu to Ya'an highway in the direction of Ya'an."
"It seems something is happening in Tibet."
The Chengdu to Ya'an highway runs through Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) prefecture, where Draggo and Serthar are located.
A second netizen commented on the lack of reporting of the protests in Draggo. "Why are they rioting in Draggo county? What are their demands?" the netizen wrote.
"There are no reports about this."
Draggo, Serthar protests
The protest in Draggo began on Jan. 23 when Chinese authorities insisted that local Tibetans celebrate the Lunar New Year against the wishes of residents saddened by earlier protest deaths, according to Tibetan sources.
Initially, a group of several hundred shouted slogans calling for freedom for Tibet and the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, sources said.
"When the protesters arrived in front of the local Chinese police, the police opened fire," said Yeshe Sangpo, a Tibetan monk living in India and citing sources in the region.
Meanwhile, the Tuesday incident in Serthar was sparked by protests that began on Monday with posters calling for more self-immolations, sources said.
The posters also called on Tibetans not to allow the bodies of those who set themselves on fire to be taken away by Chinese security forces.
"Leaflets displaying the [banned] Tibetan national flag and slogans such as 'Long live the Dalai Lama,' 'Shame on China,' and 'Victory to Tibet' were scattered during the protests," one source said.
Chinese official media meanwhile blamed the unrest on "mobs" armed with knives and stones who had "opened fire" on local police.
Deleted from Internet
Sources in Chengdu said Sichuan provincial officials had cut short their Lunar New Year break after the news came through about the unrest.
"After the news came out from over there, they deleted it all from the Internet," said a Chengdu source surnamed Li.
"Right now there are around 2,000 armed police on the streets within a one-kilometer radius of Serthar monastery."
"No one dares to go outside, or to leave town," Li said.
He said he had also heard reports saying that five people had been killed in clashes between armed police and Tibetans.
"A lot of departments are being forced to end their leave prematurely and come back to work, starting yesterday," Li added.
He said security reinforcements had also been sent to the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.
"There are a lot more police, and they are carrying out checks on the streets and at intersections on Tibetans."
Repeated attempts to reach residents of Draggo were unsuccessful.
Kalsang, an MP in the Tibetan parliament in exile in Dharamsala, India, said the roads leading from the highway in the direction of Serthar and Draggo counties were now lined with armed police vehicles.
"These are military reinforcements heading in long lines into Tibetan and the Kham region," Kalsang said, citing photographs posted online.
An employee who answered the phone at a Tibetan guesthouse in Lhasa confirmed that additional security checks had been stepped up on Tibetans.
"Of course security has been stepped up," the employee said, adding: "I heard there was a problem over in Sichuan."
He said there were currently a large number of police patrols on the city's streets. "It's mainly Tibetans that they want to check," he said. "For Han Chinese, it's OK if they have an ID card."
"Now we have to check all Tibetans and see if they are from Lhasa, and then they can rent a room," he said. "If they aren't from Lhasa then they're not allowed to stay here."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.