BEIJING, China – Deadly clashes between ethnic Tibetans and Chinese security forces have spread to a second area in southwestern China, the government and an overseas activist group said Wednesday.
The group Free Tibet said two Tibetans were killed and several more were wounded Tuesday when security forces opened fire on a crowd of protesters in Seda county in politically sensitive Ganzi prefecture in Sichuan province. It quoted local sources as saying the area was under a curfew.
According to the Chinese government, a “mob” of people charged a police station in Seda and injured 14 officers, forcing police to open fire on them.
The official Xinhua News Agency said police killed one rioter, injured another and arrested 13.
The spread of violence came after some 30 Tibetans sheltered in a monastery after being wounded when Chinese police fired into a crowd of protesters in neighbouring Luhuo county, a Tibetan monk said Tuesday. He said military forces had surrounded the building.
The monk would not give his name out of fear of government retaliation, and the Draggo monastery could no longer be reached by phone Wednesday.
The counties have been tense for some time, and at least 16 Buddhist monks, nuns and other Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest in the past year. Most have chanted for Tibetan freedom and the return of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
Many Tibetans resent Beijing’s heavy-handed rule and the large-scale migration of China’s ethnic Han majority to the Himalayan region. While China claims Tibet has been under its rule for centuries, many Tibetans say the region was functionally independent for most of that time.
“Chinese forces are responding with lethal force to Tibetans’ ever-growing calls for freedom,” Free Tibet director Stephanie Brigden said in a statement Wednesday.
A man who answered the telephone at the Seda county government office would not confirm or deny the group’s account of Tuesday’s violence. He would not give his name.
Later Wednesday, phone lines for Seda police and government offices were constantly busy while calls to many other numbers in the county could not be connected.
Xinhua cited a police officer as saying the mob gathered Tuesday afternoon to storm the Chengguan Police Station and that they attacked police with gasoline bottles, knives and stones.
“They also opened fire at us, injuring 14 police officers,” the report quoted the officer as saying.
Chinese authorities have similarly blamed Monday’s unrest in Luhuo on a “mob” and said that overseas advocacy groups are twisting the truth about what happened in order to undermine the government. The government says order has been restored there after one Tibetan died and four others were injured. It said five police were wounded.
The International Campaign for Tibet says three were killed on Monday, including the brother of a religious leader in a local monastery.
Independent confirmation of the clashes is difficult due to a heavy security presence and lack of access to outsiders.
The United States, which will host Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping at the White House next month, has expressed grave concern at the reported violence.
U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Maria Otero urged Beijing to address “counterproductive policies” in Tibetan areas that have created tensions and threatened Tibetans’ religious, cultural and linguistic identity.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington has always been clear with China about its concerns for the human rights of Tibetans and others. She said the U.S. would be “just as clear” when Xi visits next month.
British Foreign Minister Jeremy Browne said the U.K. also was concerned. “I urge the Chinese government to exercise restraint, to release full details of the incidents, and to work to resolve the underlying grievances,” his statement said.
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.
Gillian Wong can be reached on http://twitter.com/gillianwong