Beijing: Two Tibetans have died in a security crackdown on a Buddhist monastery in southwest China, an activist group said, after the restive area was closed to foreigners.
Authorities have sealed off Kirti Monastery in Sichuan province and ordered a re-education programme there following unrest triggered last month when a young monk set himself on fire and died in an apparent anti-government protest.
The International Campaign for Tibet, a US-based rights group with exile sources who have contacts in the region, said paramilitary police raided the monastery on Thursday night and took away more than 300 monks.
Police then beat a group of laypeople who had been standing vigil outside Kirti, leading to the deaths of two Tibetans aged in their sixties, ICT said.
"People had their arms and legs broken, one old woman had her leg broken in three places, and cloth was stuffed in their mouths to stifle their screams," an exiled Kirti monk was quoted as saying by the rights group.
Police in Aba district, where the monastery is located, said they had no information and local residents refused to comment when contacted.
The official Xinhua news agency reported on Friday that local authorities had started a "legal education" programme at Kirti due to the "problems" there and "illegal activities" committed by some monks.
Local police say the monk`s self-immolation on March 16 "was a carefully planned and implemented criminal case, which was aimed at triggering disturbances," Xinhua said in a separate report on Saturday.
Tensions run deep in Tibetan areas of China, where many Tibetans accuse the government of trying to dilute their culture, and cite concern about what they view as increasing domination by China`s majority Han ethnic group.
That tension erupted in violent demonstrations in March 2008 in Tibet`s capital Lhasa, which then spread into neighbouring Tibetan areas of China, including Kirti.
Travel agencies said on Saturday that Aba and the neighbouring Tibetan-populated Ganzi prefecture had been closed to foreigners.
"The provincial tourism bureau told us two days ago that foreign tourists cannot go to Aba or Ganzi," an employee at the Sichuan branch of China Travel Service said. Another travel agent said she thought the ban was related to "Tibetans”.
Tibet`s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has warned of "catastrophic consequences" if the situation at Kirti worsens. China`s Foreign Ministry, however, said on Tuesday the situation there was "normal".