BEIJING (Reuters) - A police officer and a suspected riot leader were shot dead in a gun battle in an ethnic Tibetan part of western China, state media reported on Wednesday, in a sign that tensions remain high following a wave of unrest.
The policeman, named as ethnic Tibetan officer Lama Cedain, died of his wounds on Monday morning, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing the public security authorities in the western province of Qinghai, which borders Tibet.
It added that there had been a riot in Qinghai’s Dari County incited by “a handful of people alleged to be insurgents seeking ‘Tibetan independence’”, following anti-government protests in Lhasa in March.
“After a month-long investigation, the police moved on Monday to arrest the suspected leader. The suspect resisted arrest and gunfire broke out,” the report said.
“The officer was killed in the gun battle ... and other officers returned fire, killing the suspect.”
China has blamed Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his government-in-exile for plotting the unrest in which Beijing says at least 18 “innocent civilians” were killed by Tibetan mobs in the regional capital, Lhasa.
The Dalai Lama denies the charges, and insists he does not want independence.
The status of Tibet, the remote, mountain region Chinese troops entered in 1950, led to protests at the torch relay for the Beijing Olympics, notably in London, Paris and San Francisco.
Following calls from Western leaders, China offered last week to hold talks with envoys of the Dalai Lama, though it has given no details on when and where a dialogue might take place.
The government has also kept up its tight grip on Tibet and ethnic Tibetan areas.
Mass detentions of monks have continued in the past week, and more monasteries have been sealed off by troops, the International Campaign for Tibet said in a statement.
On Tuesday, China announced that it had jailed 30 people for terms ranging from three years to life for their roles in the Tibet protests, prompting New York-based Human Rights Watch to express concern that they had not received fair trials.
“They were tried on secret evidence behind closed doors and without the benefit of a meaningful defense by lawyers they’d chosen,” Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
China defended the judicial process, saying the trial was open and had been attended by some 200 people, including monks.
“If you break the law, you will be punished an accordance with it. It’s the same in China as in any other country,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu said.
She added that the government had dealt with the riots in a “restrained, lenient and magnanimous way”.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Lindsay Beck; Editing by Alex Richardson