BEIJING » Two people have died in a clash with Chinese police raiding a Tibetan Buddhist monastery where tensions have run high over the recent suicide of a monk, an activist group said Saturday.
The reported incident marks some of the worst violence in the ongoing troubles at Kirti monastery located high in the Himalayan foothills in a traditionally Tibetan area of Sichuan province in the country’s west.
Police who have blockaded the monastery and restricted the movements of its 2,500 residents launched a raid Thursday night, the U.S.-based International Campaign for Tibet said in a news release.
Police took 300 monks to an unknown location and two villagers trying to block the monks’ removal were killed, it said, identifying the dead as 60-year-old Dongko, and a 65-year-old woman, Sherkyi. The area has since been closed off to outside visitors, it said.
Aba — and Kirti in particular — have been restive since Tibetan communities across western China rose up in a rebellion three years ago that was quashed by a massive and persisting show of force.
Tensions were further heightened by the March 16 suicide of 21-year-old monk, Phuntsog, who set himself on fire on a main street near Kirti in a protest against government controls of Tibetan Buddhism, which recognizes the exiled Dalai Lama as its rightful leader.
Tibetans fear that they are being marginalized economically by Chinese and that their religion, the core of Tibetan culture, is under threat from restrictions imposed by the authoritarian government.
China occupied Tibet in 1950 and claims the region has been part of its territory for centuries, although many Tibetans, who are linguistically and ethnically distinct from Chinese, say they were effectively independent.
Information from the remote region is extremely limited, and it was not immediately possible to confirm the incident. The International Campaign for Tibet advocates for Tibetan critics of China’s government and maintains ties to the Dalai Lama. Its reports have proven reliable in past.
A man who answered at a number listed for the Kirti management committee refused to comment on the report and swiftly hung up the phone. A man reached at the Aba government offices said he had heard of no incidents at Kirti but said he was not a government official and hung up when asked for details.
Without mentioning the clash, the official Xinhua News Agency said authorities had ordered residents of Kirti be required to attend a stepped-up course of legal education — a form of political indoctrination deeply resented by monks for eating into their time for religious studies.
Friday’s Xinhua report cited a county government circular accusing monks of immoral and illegal acts dating back to the 2008 protests.
Separately, Xinhua cited police as saying that Phuntsog’s suicide had been "carefully planned and aimed at triggering disturbances" and said monks who had delayed his removal to hospital were suspected of intentional homicide.
Adding to the tensions have been protests in the neighboring Tibetan area of Yushu over government rebuilding plans following a massive earthquake there last year that killed at least 2,698 people.
Despite the earmarking of millions for reconstruction, protesters say Beijing has forced through plans without taking the concerns of local residents into account.