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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Tibetan Who Set Himself Afire Dies

March 27, 2011

By EDWARD WONG, New York Times
Published: March 17, 2011

BEIJING — A young Tibetan monk who set himself on fire to protest Chinese rule in the vast Tibetan regions of western China died early on Thursday. It was the first time that a monk protesting against China had killed himself through self-immolation, according to historians of modern Tibet.

The act appeared to reflect the sense of desperation and futility that simmers among Tibetans who chafe at rule by China, which invaded central Tibet in 1951. The monk, Phuntsog, 20, belonged to the Kirti Monastery in Sichuan Province. The monastery has been a center of protest against Chinese policies and was especially active in the 2008 Tibetan uprising.

“China’s violent rule in Tibet has escalated since 2008 to a point where Tibetans feel compelled to take desperate action,” Tenzin Dorjee, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, based in New York, said in a statement. “Phuntsog Jarutsang’s self-immolation is a window into the deep suffering and frustrations that Tibetans everywhere are feeling, and is an urgent cry for help that the global community cannot ignore.”

Phuntsog set himself on fire at 4 p.m. Wednesday, according to a report Thursday by Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency.

A report by a Tibet advocacy organization based in Washington, International Campaign for Tibet, or I.C.T., said that security officers doused Phuntsog’s flames, then beat and kicked him.

Hundreds of monks and laypeople had gathered during and after the immolation and later began protesting the security presence, which had been tightened this month in anticipation of a potential uprising. The anniversaries of the 2008 revolt and one in 1959 that resulted in the Dalai Lama’s flight to India both fall in March.

At some point, monks took Phuntsog’s body back to the monastery. Security forces locked down the town and detained many local people, said I.C.T. and another advocacy group,Free Tibet. A fellow monk from Kirti, Tsering, confirmed the accounts of the self-immolation in a telephone interview with The Associated Press late Wednesday.

The Xinhua report, citing an unnamed official in Aba County, which is called Ngaba or Ngapa in Tibetan, said Phuntsog died at 3:44 a.m. Thursday after “treatment delays” because monks took him out of a hospital and hid him in Kirti Monastery. Calls made on Thursday to a police station in the area went unanswered.

Kirti was the scene of a brutal crackdown in 2008 to halt an uprising that started after riots broke out in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. At least 10 Tibetans around Kirti were shot dead, according to Tibet advocacy groups. Monks living in exile in Dharamsala, India, have photographs of several Tibetans killed by bullets in Kirti during the 2008 protests.

In February 2009, another monk from Kirti, Tapey, set himself on fire, but he survived after security officers put out his flames. In 1998, a Tibetan layman living in exile in India, Thubten Ngodup, died after an act of self-immolation to protest the Chinese occupation of his homeland.

The most famous modern case of a monk using self-immolation as a form of political protest occurred in 1963, when a Buddhist monk in Saigon, South Vietnam, Thich Quang Duc, burned himself to death to protest persecution of Buddhists by the Catholic-dominated South Vietnamese government.

International Campaign for Tibet also reported this week that a Tibetan monk, Sangey Gyatso, who had gone into hiding in Gansu Province, died on Feb. 26 of undisclosed health problems. He was among the 15 or so monks who held a protest in front of foreign journalists in April 2008 at Labrang Monastery in Xiahe. At least three monks from thatprotest fled to India to seek asylum.

Wary of potential uprisings this month, Chinese officials have barred foreigners from traveling to central Tibet, known as the Tibet Autonomous Region. That travel ban has been in effect every March since the 2008 uprising.

Chinese leaders say that Tibetans are generally satisfied with rule by the ethnic Han, who dominate China, and that only a small number take part in protests. They accuse the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, of organizing the protests from India.

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