BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese troops fired on thousands of Tibetans protesting in southwestern Sichuan province Monday, killing at least one and wounding more, two overseas advocacy groups said.
Free Tibet, a London-based group that campaigns for Tibetan self-determination, said the protesting Tibetans gathered at an intersection in Luhuo, about 590 km (370 miles) west of Sichuan’s capital of Chengdu, and marched on government offices, where security forces opened fire about midday.
The Tibetans were protesting about arrests earlier in the day in connection with the distribution of pamphlets carrying the slogan “Tibet Needs Freedom” and declaring that more Tibetans were ready to stage self-immolations to challenge Chinese rule, the group said in an emailed statement.
One resident — a 49-year-old Tibetan man called Yonten — was shot dead by government forces and another 30 or so residents were injured, said Free Tibet.
Another advocacy group, the International Campaign for Tibet, said three people were killed and about nine injured when police fired into the crowd in Luhuo, which is called Drango or Draggo by Tibetans.
“Others were injured in the crackdown, including through beatings by police, following the dissemination of leaflets in Drango saying that Tibetans should not celebrate New Year due to the self-immolations and situation in Tibet,” Kate Saunders, the London-based communications director for the International Campaign, said in an emailed statement that cited several unnamed sources.
This year the main Tibetan traditional new year celebrations begin on February 22.
“Due to fears for their safety, Tibetans who were injured are unable to seek treatment at the local government-run hospital,” said the International Campaign for Tibet.
Chinese security forces have been on edge after 16 incidents of self-immolation by ethnic Tibetans over the last year in response to growing resentment of Beijing’s controls on religion. Some have called for the return of the Dalai Lama, their exiled Buddhist leader.
The mountainous western part of Sichuan province where the recent unrest has been concentrated is dominated by ethnic Tibetans and lies next to the official Tibetan Autonomous Region.
The reports could not be immediately verified. A staff member of the county public security bureau said he was not aware of any incident.
“There’s nothing happening. I don’t know about anything,” he said, before hanging up.
The two advocacy groups said Tibetans from nearby areas were continuing to converge on Luhuo Monday.
China’s Foreign Ministry has branded the self-immolators “terrorists” and has said the Dalai Lama, whom it condemns as a supporter of violent separatism, should take the blame.
Reporting by Ken Wills and Chris Buckley; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Robert Woodward