Chinese security forces have locked down a Tibetan monastery in western China and clashed with local residents as they blocked troops from taking monks away, Tibetan rights groups and an exiled monk said Wednesday.
The tensions are the latest troubles at Kirti monastery, which has seen recurring unrest against Chinese rule for the last three years. A 20-year-old monk at Kirti set himself on fire last month in protest against Beijing, making his death a focal point for local anger and setting up the latest round of tensions.
Armed police have been stationed around Kirti this week, locking its two side entrances, setting up a guard post manned by more than 10 troops at the main gate and refusing to let the 2,500 monks leave the complex freely, said Losang Tsering, a Kirti monk now living in Dharmsala, India, the seat of Tibet's exiled government.
On Tuesday, an unknown number of Tibetans living in Aba _ the Sichuan province town where Kirti is located _ gathered at the monastery to block the troops after hearing that some monks were going to be detained, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said. The Tibetan rights group said police beat some in the crowd, causing serious injuries.
The Aba county Communist Party's information office refuted the accounts, saying no clashes occurred. "The police are holding normal patrols in the county and they will pass by the Kirti monastery," said a woman in the information office who gave her surname as Jia. "It's not true that the police were stationed outside the monastery and no one was beaten."
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. 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.
The government says that is not true, and that it has spend tens of billions of dollars to raise living standards.
Tsering said the Kirti monks were being made to attend "patriotic education" classes and were barred from chanting. He said security was preventing food from being donated by devotees to the monastery, raising concerns of a food shortage.
"Those 2,500 monks, they are blocked inside the monastery like it is a prison," said Tsering, who spoke to The Associated Press by phone, with the help of a translator arranged by the International Campaign for Tibet, a Washington-based pro-Tibet group.
Adding to the tensions is the one-year anniversary Thursday of a massive earthquake in the neighboring Tibetan area of Yushu, where reports say survivors have also been protesting what they call unfair seizure of land by the local government for rebuilding.
Hundreds of Tibetans massed in Jiegu, or Kyegu in Tibetan, the center of Yushu, for the first three days of April, the Washington-based rights group International Campaign for Tibet said. It obtained photos showing Tibetans holding banners that said: "Our land belongs to us."
The government has poured millions of dollars and thousands of workers into Jiegu to show that it can care for local Tibetans following the April 14, 2010, earthquake that flattened tens of thousands of houses and killed at least 2,698 people. But the rebuilding effort has been criticized as heavy-handed and directed by Beijing without taking local wishes into account.