Beijing blamed exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama on Wednesday for inciting a spate of self-immolations in China’s Tibetan-inhabited regions.
Nearly 60 ethnic Tibetans, many of them monks and nuns, have set themselves on fire in China since February 2009 to protest against Beijing’s rule in Tibet, with three such incidents occurring in recent days, rights groups say.
“To our knowledge most of the self-immolation cases in the Tibetan-inhabited regions are related to the instigation of the Dalai clique,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.
“In order to realise their separatist goals, the Dalai clique has incited some people to self-immolate. This is despicable and should be condemned.”
Hong did not offer any evidence that the Dalai Lama or the exiled Tibetan government based in the Indian town of Dharamshala were inciting the self-immolations.
Many Tibetans in China accuse the government of repressing their religious freedom and eroding their culture, as the country’s majority Han Chinese ethnic group increasingly moves into historically Tibetan areas.
Last year, Beijing accused the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet for India in 1959, of instigating the burnings as a form of “terrorism in disguise”.
The 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner countered by calling China’s rule of Tibet “a kind of cultural genocide” that was driving Tibetans to acts of desperation.
He has not condemned the suicides of the last few years, preferring to remain “neutral” in his words, but he recently paid tribute to the courage of the protesters.
China has long accused the Dalai Lama – Tibet’s most revered spiritual leader – of seeking an independent Tibet, accusations he has repeatedly denied.
On Tuesday, a Tibetan farmer in his 50s named as Dorje Rinchen died after setting himself on fire near the Labrang monastery in northwest China’s Gansu province, the US-based International Campaign for Tibet said in a statement.
The self-immolation follows two others on Monday and Saturday, the group said.