Two Tibetans set themselves on fire Friday in restive Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) prefecture in China's Sichuan province, protesting against Chinese rule and calling for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet, according to sources and an advocacy group.
One of them, a monk, is believed to have died, they said.
They were the first self-immolations this year after a dozen such incidents in 2011 stemming from, according to rights groups, the "desperate" situation facing Tibetans as Chinese authorities pursued a security clampdown.
"One layperson and a monk did set their bodies on fire at Ngaba town," a Tibetan who witnessed the incidents told RFA.
"The layperson [performed the self-immolation] at the upper part of Ngaba town and the monk did at the middle of the town," the eyewitness said. "The Chinese security forces rushed to the scene and dispersed the crowd that had gathered. The monk could have died."
The London-based Free Tibet group also said that one of the two was reported to have died at the scene.
“These latest self-immolations confirm that what we are currently witnessing in Tibet is a sustained and profound rejection of the Chinese occupation," Free Tibet Director Stephanie Brigden said.
“It is a damning indictment of the international community that 14 people, in different parts of Tibet, have now chosen to set themselves on fire and the international community has failed to respond.
“We can only expect that such acts of protest will continue for as long as world leaders turn a blind eye to the desperate situation in Tibet," she said.
Based on reports from secondary sources, Free Tibet said one of them who self-immolated Friday was heard calling for the return of Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who is living in exile in India, before Chinese forces extinguished the flames and removed him.
Other reports said the two of them shouted various slogans as they set themselves ablaze.
“With folded hands they faced towards Kirti Monastery and raised a
number of slogans amongst which the audible ones were 'Long live His
Holiness the Dalai Lama' and 'We want the return of His Holiness the
Dalai Lama to Tibet’,” according to the Tibetan Times.
The self-immolations came as tens of thousands of Buddhist pilgrims from around the world traveled this week to Bodhgaya, a town in northern India, to hear the Dalai Lama give the "Kalachakra" religious teachings.
At least 9,000 Tibetans traveling on Chinese passports, along with an estimated 1,200 Chinese Buddhists from the mainland, are among those who have registered with the event authorities.
A Kalachakra attendee who phoned his family and relatives in Ngaba in a bid to make them hear the Dalai Lama's voice said they informed the caller about the self-immolations.
"They requested [me] to place some offerings before the Dalai Lama to pray for those two who self immolated," a Tibetan Times reporter quoted the caller as saying.
"[A family member] from Ngaba saw the layperson being burnt and the monk being taken by Chinese police after extinguishing the fire."
Most of the self-immolations so far have occurred in Ngaba.
Tensions in the Tibet Autonomous Region and in Tibetan-populated areas in China's provinces have not subsided since anti-China riots swept through the Tibetan Plateau in March 2008.
Chinese authorities have blamed Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama for the tense situation, saying he is encouraging the self-immolations, which run contrary to Buddhist teachings.
But the Dalai Lama shot back, blaming China's "ruthless and illogical" policy towards Tibet.
He called on the Chinese government to change its "repressive" policies in Tibet, citing the crackdown on monasteries and policies curtailing use of the Tibetan language.
Reported by Rigdhen Dolma and Palden Gyal for RFA's Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.