BEIJING (Reuters) - Two Tibetans in China’s southwestern Sichuan province were killed when security forces fired on demonstrators, a Tibetan advocacy group said, the latest in a series of clashes following protests on government controls in the region.
Residents in Seda County were under curfew after at least two people were shot dead and many more were wounded during protests at around noon on Tuesday, the London-based Free Tibet group said in an emailed statement late the same day.
Calls to the Seda County government were not answered. An officer at the county public security bureau said on Tuesday that he did not know about the reported clash in this area about 680 km (423 miles) west of Sichuan’s capital of Chengdu.
The violence is likely to add to rising tension in the traditionally rebellious Tibetan highlands of Sichuan, where security forces have struggled to maintain control over the heavily Buddhist communities that live off yak herding and gathering and selling herbs and medicinal plants.
On Tuesday, the official Xinhua News Agency confirmed a separate clash a day earlier in Luhuo, a township in the western highlands of Sichuan near Tibet, and said one protester was killed.
Free Tibet, which campaigns for Tibetan self-determination, said in an email that troops fired tear gas at Tibetan protesters in Meruma township, Aba County, called Ngaba County by Tibetans, also in Sichuan.
“Tibetans had gathered to protest Chinese oppression on the occasion of Chinese New Year, having decided that they would not celebrate the Lunar New Year because of the current repression in Tibet,” Free Tibet said.
Chinese security forces have been on edge after 16 incidents in which Tibetans set themselves on fire over the last year in response to resentment of Beijing’s controls on religion.
Most of the incidents occurred in Sichuan. Some of the protesters have called for the return of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Buddhist leader revered by many Tibetans.
China has ruled what it calls the Tibet Autonomous Region since Communist troops marched in in 1950. It rejects criticism that it is eroding Tibetan culture and faith, saying its rule has ended serfdom and brought much needed development to a poor and backward region.
Free Tibet in a separate statement late on Tuesday said it had confirmed that at least two Tibetans had been killed in Monday’s incident in Luhuo, raising the number of people shot dead by security forces in Sichuan since Monday to four.
The group said it also had the names of 36 people wounded in the clash.
A 49-year-old Tibetan man was the first person confirmed to have been killed by government forces in Luhuo, Free Tibet said, adding that his funeral was scheduled for Wednesday and more Tibetans where traveling to the area.
Xinhua earlier said dozens of people had clashed with police after rumours spread that three monks would set themselves on fire in protest in Luhuo, which is called Drango or Draggo by Tibetans.
One protester died in the clash and others were injured, including five police officers, Xinhua said.
Other advocacy groups and a resident in a nearby village reached by Reuters had slightly varying accounts of the incidents, which are difficult to verify because the government restricts travel to Tibet and parts of Sichuan.
After protests in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa spiralled into deadly attacks on ethnic Chinese residents in 2008, unrest spread across many ethnic Tibetan areas, and western Sichuan was among the most volatile areas.
China’s Foreign Ministry has branded the self-immolators “terrorists” and has said the Dalai Lama, whom it condemns a supporter of violent separatism, should take the blame.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
Reporting by Michael Martina and Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie