BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Thursday defended its treatment of Tibetan monks it says are undergoing re-education, responding to a U.N. inquiry about what exiled Tibetans have called the forced disappearance of hundreds of monks.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the monks had not been detained illegally, and urged U.N. human rights investigators to act without prejudice.
"It is legal to supervise religious affairs, and protect normal religious order. This issue of forced disappearance fundamentally does not exist," Hong told reporters at a regular press briefing.
U.N. human rights investigators called on China to reveal the "fate and whereabouts" of more than 300 monks who disappeared after being rounded up by security forces at a monastery in Aba prefecture of the southwestern province of Sichuan in April.
Exiled Tibetans and a prominent writer have said that the crackdown was sparked by a monk's self-immolation in March, an apparent protest against government controls.
"According to our understanding, relevant local government departments are collectively implementing education on the legal system for staff of the Kirti Monastery," Hong said.
"We urge the relevant mechanisms to abandon prejudice and genuinely carry out their orders according to principles of objectivity and fairness," he said, referring to the U.N. investigators.
The Aba government said in late April after the self-immolation incident that it had decided to give some monks "legal education", due to "illegal activities" that included visiting prostitutes, getting drunk, gambling and pornography, state news agency Xinhua reported.
The U.N. group, composed of five independent human rights experts, called for the prosecution of those responsible for the disappearances, a crime under international law.
An unknown number of monks have been released since the group was taken away from the monastery -- located in an ethnically Tibetan area -- by public security agents and armed police in 10 military trucks on April 21, it said.
China routinely rejects any accusations about mistreatment or exploitation of Tibetans, saying its rule has brought untold benefits to a poor and feudal society.
Reporting by Michael Martina, editing by Miral Fahmy