A former Buddhist monk in Tibet has been hospitalized after setting himself on fire, the latest in a series of apparent self-immolation protests against Chinese rule, a human rights group said.
Most of the protesters who have set themselves on fire are calling for Tibetan freedom and the return of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled to India during an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
The Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet said Tenzin Phuntsog, a former monk in his 40s, set himself on fire Thursday. The attempted self-immolation reportedly occurred near the Karma monastery in Tibet's Chamdo region.
The group cited exiled Tibetans in India whom it did not identify by name.
A woman who answered the telephone at the propaganda office of the Chamdo regional Communist Party denied the incident occurred.
"Nobody self-immolated. Nothing like that happened in Chamdo," said the woman, who would not give her name.
If the incident is confirmed, at least 12 monks, nuns and former monks have now set themselves on fire this year in what are seen as acts of desperation in the face of tightening Chinese controls over Tibetan life and culture. All but the latest occurred in heavily Tibetan areas of China's Sichuan province.
Earlier this week, China's public security minister, Meng Jianzhu, visited Sichuan's Aba prefecture, where eight self-immolations have taken place this year and another occurred in 2009. The ministry said on its website that Meng visited Aba police stations and inspected their facilities, including video surveillance equipment.
While sympathizing with Aba police for their hardship post _ the region is at a high altitude and endures extremely cold weather _ he encouraged them to ingratiate themselves with local people and regularly do small favors for them "so compatriots from all ethnic groups can feel the warm care of the government and the party."
Meng also met with monks at the local Kirti monastery, urging them to bolster national unity and patriotism, the ministry said.
The report paraphrased Meng as saying he hoped monks there would "carry on the tradition of loving the homeland and the faith, and actively contribute to national solidarity, economic growth and social advancement."
The ministry's statement did not mention the self-immolations.
Aba has been the scene of numerous protests over the past several years against the Chinese government. Most are led by monks who are fiercely loyal to the Dalai Lama. The area is off-limits to foreign journalists.
China says Tibet has always been part of its territory, but many Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries.
Chinese authorities routinely deny Tibetan claims of repression, although they have confirmed some self-immolations and accused supporters of the Dalai Lama of encouraging such acts. The Dalai Lama and representatives of the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile in India say they oppose all violence.