China rejects accusations of oppression of Tibetans, saying its rule has greatly improved living standards.

Story highlights

Overseas groups have reported that three Tibetans set fire to themselves in China

Local Chinese officials tell a state-run newspaper that the self-immolations didn't happen

The Chinese authorities' accounts have regularly differed with those of advocacy groups

The reports come after a clampdown by Chinese security forces in the region

Hong Kong CNN —  

The Chinese authorities have contested reports that three Tibetans set themselves on fire last week in a remote area of southwestern China.

The conflicting accounts followed an increase in security measures by the Chinese authorities in Ganzi, an ethnically Tibetan area of Sichuan Province, in response to violent protests that took place last month.

The unrest has been fueled in part by reports of a string of self-immolations by Tibetans over the past year amid anger and despair over Chinese rule.

Radio Free Asia, a U.S.-based nonprofit group, reported over the weekend that the three Tibetans had set fire to themselves on Friday morning in a village known as Phuwu and that one of them had died as a result. The group, which broadcasts in Asian countries that it says lack “full and free news media,” attributed the information to unidentified sources.

According to Radio Free Asia, Phuwu is in the county of Seda in Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, which is home to a population that is nearly 80% Tibetan. Seda is known by Tibetans as Serthar.

Free Tibet, a London-based organization that campaigns against Chinese rule in the Tibetan region, also reported the self-immolations on its website. It did not specify where it got the information from.

But Global Times, an English-language newspaper run by the Chinese Communist Party, published an article Monday that disputed that version of events. It cited local government officials as saying that no self-immolations had taken place recently.

“Everything is all right here, although we still have no Internet access,” the newspaper cited Wang Yongkang, secretary of Seda county’s Party committee, as saying Sunday. A restriction on communications has been part of the security clampdown in the area.

Wang said there had been rumors that some Tibetans would set themselves on fire but that “it has not happened,” according to Global Times.

The newspaper also cited Zhang Yang, an official from the publicity department of the Party committee of Sichuan Province, as saying that that he had not heard of any self-immolations over the weekend.

Calls by CNN to government offices in Seda went unanswered Monday.

The violence that has taken place in Ganzi recently appears to be the worst between ethnic Tibetans and the Chinese authorities since 2008, when deadly unrest in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, left at least 22 people dead.

The Chinese government’s version of events in the region has regularly differed from those of groups like Free Tibet and the International Campaign for Tibet.

Those advocacy groups have reported that the Chinese authorities have fired on unarmed protesters in at least three places in the past two weeks, killing several and wounding dozens.

The Chinese state-run media have reported that at least one protester was killed in the clashes, but that the police fired in self-defense after the Tibetans attacked them.

China has denounced the accounts of the violence by the advocacy groups as “ill-intentioned hype” by “overseas secessionist groups attempting to distort the truth and discredit the Chinese government.”

Last week, the Chinese authorities blacked out a CNN television report on the situation in the region.

Tibetans in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, told CNN that they wished 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.

Pro-Tibetan groups claim Tibetans have gradually become the minority population in their own homeland, as Han Chinese – China’s main ethnic group – have migrated to the region.

Resentment among Tibetans spilled over in 2008 when a protest in Lhasa turned violent, as Tibetan mobs burned vehicles and shops and attacked ethnic Chinese. Tibetan exiles say more than 200 people died when Chinese security forces clamped down, but Beijing denies this, saying 22 people, mostly Chinese civilians, died during riots. Activists say tensions have remained high ever since.