A young Tibetan man self-immolated Friday in a township facing constant harassment from security forces in Sichuan province in the third burning against Chinese rule this week, sources and rights groups said.
The 24-year old Choepa torched himself at the Meruma township in the Ngaba (Aba, in Chinese) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, attracting local police who extinguished the flames and took him away, exiled Tibetan monks in India said.
"The local witnesses could not confirm whether he was dead or alive, but their best guess is that he was severely injured in the fire and that there is little chance for his survival," monks Lobsang Yeshe and Kanyag Tsering in the Indian hill town of Dharamsala said in a statement.
"[Even] if he died, the witnesses could not confirm the present location of his body," they said, citing local residents.
Free Tibet, a London-based advocacy group, said Chinese security forces stepped up deployment in Meruma, a nomadic town 27 kilometers (about 17 miles) east of the Ngaba county center, following the fiery protest.
Free Tibet Director Stephanie Brigden suggested that the self-immolation could have been sparked by ongoing tensions in Meruma, since protests there in January led to "detentions and disappearances."
“Like too many Tibetans, [Choepa] felt he had no recourse other than to set himself on fire to protest against China’s occupation," she said.
"Since security forces used tear gas against unarmed protesters in Meruma in January, Free Tibet has documented large numbers of detentions and disappearances from the township, fueling a climate of fear and defiance," she pointed out.
Choepa is the third Tibetan this week to set fire to himself while protesting Chinese rule and calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader who is living in exile in Dharamsala.
In total, 47 Tibetans have now 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.
On Tuesday, A Tibetan woman took off her clothes and set herself on fire in a monastery's grounds in the southern part of Kanlho (Gannan, in Chinese) prefecture in Gansu province. Dolkar Tso died shortly after monks doused the flames.
A day earlier, a Tibetan monk at the restive Kirti monastery in Ngaba also self-immolated. Lobsang Tsultrim, 21, was taken away by Chinese security forces and died on the same day.
Tibetan groups say the wave of self-immolation protests will continue until the underlying 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 Paramesawaran Ponnudurai.