BEIJING One of Tibet's most senior exiled Buddhist leaders, the Karmapa Lama, appealed on Wednesday for Tibetans in China not to set themselves on fire, saying he hoped they found more constructive ways to advance their cause.
The Karmapa Lama fled Tibet in 2000 and lives in exile along with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala in northern India, the center of the self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile.
The Karmapa Lama said the 11 Tibetans who have set themselves alight so far this year in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan were "brave," acting in desperation "against the injustice and repression under which they live."
"The situation is unbearably difficult, but in difficult situations we need greater courage and determination," he said in an emailed statement.
"Each report of self-immolation from Tibet has filled my heart with pain," the Karmapa Lama said.
"In Buddhist teaching, life is precious. To achieve anything worthwhile we need to preserve our lives. We Tibetans are few in number, so every Tibetan life is of value to the cause of Tibet."
China has blamed the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Dalai Lama for the burnings, and repeated the government line that Tibetans are free to practice their Buddhist faith.
The Dalai Lama, whom China condemns as a supporter of violent separatism, in late October led hundreds of monks, nuns and lay Tibetans in prayer in his adopted homeland in India to mourn those who have burned themselves to death.
The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule, denies advocating violence and insists he wants only real autonomy for his homeland.
The Karmapa Lama appealed to China to "heed Tibetans' legitimate demands and to enter into meaningful dialogue with them instead of brutally trying to achieve their silence."
The immolations have happened in two heavily Tibetan parts of Sichuan -- Ganzi and Aba -- where many see themselves as members of a wider Tibetan region encompassing the official Tibetan Autonomous Region and other areas across the vast highlands of China's west.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)