BEIJING (Reuters) - A Tibetan monk set himself alight in a market in mountainous western China Monday, extending a burst of immolation protests at a monastery that has become a center of defiance of Beijing, a group advocating self-determination for Tibet said.
The Free Tibet group said the Buddhist monk, aged 17 or 18, came from the Kirti monastery in Aba, a heavily ethnic Tibetan area of Sichuan province, which lies next to the official Tibetan Autonomous Region.
The London-based group said the young monk, named Kalsang, "was holding a picture of the Dalai Lama when he set fire to himself and calling for religious rights and freedom in Tibet."
The Dalai Lama is Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader, reviled by the Chinese government as a "separatist" for advocating self-rule for his homeland. He says is not a separatist.
"Police put out the flames but the current well-being and whereabouts of Kalsang are unknown," added an emailed statement from Free Tibet.
Calls by Reuters to the Aba government office Monday evening, after the report appeared, went unanswered, as were calls to police numbers. Stephanie Brigden, the director of Free Tibet, told Reuters the group had two sources for its account of the incident.
The immolation is the fifth this year linked to the monastery in the area, called Ngaba by local Tibetans, which has become an epicenter of Tibetan discontent with the Chinese government. The Kirti monastery experienced a sweeping crackdown by security forces in May.
Last week, two monks from the monastery set themselves on fire to protest against government religious controls, two exiled Tibetan sources said at the time.
Those self-immolations come six months after another Tibetan Buddhist monk from the same monastery, burned himself to death.
That death prompted a crackdown, with security forces detaining about 300 Tibetan monks for a month. China later jailed three monks for their involvement in that self-immolation.
Monks from the Kirti monastery also participated in protests that hit Tibetan areas of China in March 2008, after demonstrations in Lhasa, the regional capital of Tibet, were suppressed and gave way to deadly violence aimed at non-Tibetans.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)