TOKYO (Reuters) - The desperate conditions Tibetans face under Beijing’s rigid controls in what amounted to “cultural genocide” are behind the spate of self-immolations in southwest China, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama said on Monday.
At least 11 Tibetans have set themselves ablaze this year in a heavily Tibetan part of China’s Sichuan province that has become a focus of defiance against Beijing rule.
“Including many Chinese from mainland China who visit Tibet, they all have the impression things are terrible ... Some kind of culture genocide is taking place,” the Dalai Lama told a news conference in Tokyo.
Chinese officials have launched a hardline policy against Tibet in the last 10 to 15 years, he added.
“That’s why, you see, these sorts of sad incidents happen, due to the desperateness of the situation,” he said.
In the latest incident, a Tibetan nun burned herself to death last week, while another Tibetan suffered burns to his legs on Friday when he set himself ablaze outside the Chinese embassy in India.
China has said the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 to India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, should take the blame for the burnings and that Tibetans are free to practice their Buddhist faith.
China has ruled Tibet with an iron fist since Communist troops marched in in 1950. Beijing condemns the Dalai Lama as a supporter of violent separatism, but the Dalai Lama denies this.
“We (are) totally committed (to the) non-violence principle,” he said, reiterating his line that he wants true autonomy for Tibet, not independence from China.
The 76-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate last month led hundreds of monks, nuns and lay Tibetans in prayer in India to mourn those who have burned themselves to death.
Reporting by Yoko Kubota, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher