The 29-year-old monk’s self-immolation at a monastery in Tawu could spark fresh tensions in the heavily ethnic Tibetan parts of Sichuan, which borders Tibet, after protests in March when a Tibetan monk there also burned himself to death.
«Tsewang Norbu drank petrol, sprayed petrol on himself and then set himself on fire,» the Free Tibet organisation in London said, citing an unnamed witness.
«He was heard calling out ‘we Tibetan people want freedom’, ‘long live the Dalai Lama’ and ‘let the Dalai Lama return to Tibet’. He is believed to have died at the scene,» the group said.
China’s official Xinhua news agency also reported the monk’s death, but said «it was unclear why he had burned himself».
Tawu, known as Daofu in Chinese, is in a largely ethnic Tibetan part of western Sichuan that many advocates of self-rule say should form part of a larger homeland under Tibetan control.
Tensions over the fate of the exiled Dalai Lama and his calls for Tibetan self-determination sometimes flare into protests in the region.
In March 2008, Tibetan protests led by monks in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, were suppressed by police and turned violent. Rioters torched shops and turned on Han Chinese residents, whom many Tibetans see as intruders threatening their culture.
Unrest spilled over into other ethnic Tibetan parts of China, including mountainous western Sichuan.
Beijing has repeatedly accused the Dalai Lama of being a separatist who has abetted violence. China rejects accusations that it oppresses Tibetans, saying its rule has bought huge benefits.
The Dalai Lama, who was awarded the 1989 Nobel peace prize, denies seeking independence for Tibet, saying he wants a peaceful transition to autonomy for his remote mountain homeland, which the People’s Republic of China has ruled since its troops invaded in 1950.
Security forces detained about 300 Tibetan monks in western China for a month amid a crackdown sparked by the previous self-immolation, according to exiled Tibetans and a prominent writer.
«Today’s news exposes how desperate some Tibetans feel,» said Stephanie Brigden, the director of Free Tibet. After the self-immolation in March, she said Chinese authorities «deployed troops on to the streets, imposed curfews, undertook house searches and set up military road blocks.»