The ruling Chinese Communist Party has implemented new regulations banning Tibetans in China from traveling overseas on package tours, sources in the region told RFA on Friday.
According to online reports, the Chengdu municipal tourism office has issued a directive ordering travel agents not to accept Chinese citizens from Tibetan areas, any ethnic Tibetans regardless of origin, onto package tours leaving China between May 20 and July 15.
The new regulations require travel agents and package tour operators to change their promotional literature to include a disclaimer stating that tour packages are subject to tourists holding effective travel documents which must be verified by the travel agency before signing up for a trip, unconfirmed tweets reported.
An employee who answered the phone at the Guangda International Travel Agency in Chengdu on Friday confirmed that the rules are in place, however.
"For the time being, we aren't accepting Tibetans," the employee said, when contacted by an RFA journalist posing as a potential customer traveling with a passport-holding Tibetan friend.
Asked when Tibetans would be able to travel, she said: "After July 15. They can't right now."
The employee said she was unaware of when the regulations started, and that she didn't know the reason for them.
"I'm not really sure about that," she said.
Overseas tour groups off limits
An employee who answered the phone at the Huanqiu International Travel Agency in Chengdu on Friday also said Tibetans were barred from joining overseas tour groups.
"No, they can't ... that's correct," the employee said.
Asked when the rules came into effect, the employee said: "You'd better take a look at the news. I really don't know."
An official who answered the phone at the Chengdu municipal government tourism bureau said she had heard unconfirmed reports of the rules.
But asked if they were issued by her office, she said: "I don't think they were."
"I have heard this, but I can't say for sure whether it's true or not," the official said.
"But I know about it because we received a complaint about it, and the complaint was about not being able to leave [the country] in the period up to July 15," she added. "I won't know if it's true until we have investigated this complaint."
Employees at a number of travel agencies in Beijing, and in Urumqi, regional capital of the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang, said they had received similar orders regarding Tibetans, but that the mostly Muslim ethnic Uyghurs are still allowed to leave if they hold a valid passport.
Jamyang, a Chinese-language spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala, said Tibetans have found it hard to get passports since a serious of regional uprisings in 2008.
"Since 2008, Tibetans' haven't been able to get passports, and we have seen fewer and fewer people coming out of [protest hotspots] Ganzi and Ngaba since 2008, because it's so hard to get a passport," Jamyang said.
But he said he hadn't heard about the latest restrictions, which come after a wave of self-immolations by Tibetans in protest over Chinese Communist Party rule.
"Tibetans have been subjected to tight state controls and persecution in recent years after frequent incidents of Tibetan self-immolations, and there has been a build-up of troops in all the Tibetan areas," Jamyang said.
News of the apparent travel ban on Tibetans emerged a week after hotel employees across China confirmed to RFA that special security measures are triggered whenever Tibetans and Uyghurs check into hotels around the country.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Chinese rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008, with 140 Tibetans to date setting themselves ablaze to oppose Beijing's rule and call for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Exile Tibetans have described Lhasa, capital of the Himalayan region, as a vast prison, where visitors can only stay in designated locations and are subject to ID checks and constant surveillance.
Meanwhile, Chinese officials frequently describe Turkic-speaking Muslims from Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region as separatists and terrorists following a series of violent incidents that have left hundreds dead in recent years.
They have restricted Uyghurs in some parts of the region from wearing burqas, head scarves, veils and beards, and subject worshippers in mosques to strict controls and surveillance.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.