Story highlights

A clash between Tibetan protesters and Chinese police leaves at least one person dead

China's official news agency and Tibetan rights groups offer conflicting versions of events

A Chinese government official accuses the rights groups of trying to "distort the truth"

The clash comes after a string of self-immolations by Tibetan protesters in recent months

Beijing CNN  — 

China on Tuesday criticized human rights groups’ accounts of a violent clash between Tibetan protesters and the Chinese police, accusing them of trying to “distort the truth.”

The dispute over what took place in a remote area of Sichuan Province comes at a sensitive time in China’s relationship with its Tibetan population after a string of self-immolations by Tibetan protesters in recent months.

The International Campaign for Tibet, which promotes human rights for Tibetan people, reported Monday that thousands of Tibetans had marched on government offices before the police opened fire into the crowd, killing at least three protesters and wounding nine.

Free Tibet, a London-based group that campaigns for Tibetan independence, said that one person was killed and as many as 30 others wounded by gunfire from the Chinese security forces.

The rights groups said the protesters had been motivated by a recent security crackdown on Tibetans in the region following the circulation of pamphlets raising the prospect of more self-immolations.

The reports, which could not be independently verified, contrasted with the account given by Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency. It reported that “dozens of people, including some monks, stormed and smashed some stores along a main street and a police station” in the autonomous Tibetan prefecture of Ganzi in Sichuan.

“The mob, some armed with knives, threw stones at police officers and destroyed two police vehicles and two ambulances,” Xinhua reported, saying that the violence left one of the marchers dead and four wounded. Five police officers were also wounded, Xinhua said.

The alternative versions of events from the Tibetan rights groups clearly angered the Chinese authorities.

“The attempts of overseas secessionist groups involving Tibet to distort the truth and discredit the Chinese government will not succeed,” Xinhua said Tuesday, citing Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Xinhua described the rights groups’ accounts as “ill-intentioned hype.”

The protests come ahead of the Tibetan New Year on Feb. 22 and with tensions high following more than a dozen self-immolations by Tibetans in the past year.

For a fifth straight year, China will close Tibet to foreign tourists again this year from the Tibetan New Year festival until the anniversary of a deadly anti-government riot among Tibetans in March, according to regional travel agents.

Tibetans in the mountainous region of Ganzi, have called for more freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama, their spiritual leader who fled to India during an uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

Calls to the Ganzi public security bureau and government office went unanswered on Tuesday.

CNN’s Jethro Mullen contributed to this report.