Tibetan monk sets fire to himself in China, group says

(Reuters) - An ethnic Tibetan monk set fire to himself in southwestern China on Monday, an overseas Tibetan rights group said, in the latest reported incident of an extreme form of anti-Chinese protest.

The Free Tibet group said the 19-year-old monk, Lobsang Gyatso, set fire to himself in Aba county, known as Ngaba in Tibetan, in Sichuan province.

"Chinese state security personnel extinguished the flames and forcibly removed him from the scene. Lobsang's whereabouts and wellbeing are unknown," the group said in an emailed statement.

Reuters was unable to reach government officials in Sichuan to request comment. The monk is the 23rd Tibetan in to set themselves on fire in the last year.

He is also the second Tibetan teenager to self-immolate in the last three days in Aba.

China's Xinhua state news agency confirmed that a nun who set herself on fire on Saturday had died.

The self-immolations are a small but potentially destabilising challenge to China's regional policies, and the government has branded those who set themselves alight as terrorists.

Activists say China violently stamps out religious freedom and culture in Tibet, the mountainous region of western China which has been under Chinese control since 1950.

China rejects criticism that it is eroding Tibetan culture and faith, saying its rule has ended serfdom and brought development to a backward region.
Protests by self-immolation have become more common in Tibet and in ethnic Tibetan regions of China and at least 15 Tibetans are believed to have died from their injuries. Exiled Tibetan leaders say they fear a crackdown in the region to coincide with the Tibetan new year on February 22.

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has blamed the self-immolations on "cultural genocide" by the Chinese but he has not directly called for them to stop.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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