Young Tibetan monk sets fire to himself in memory of the dead of March 2008
by Nirmala Carvalho
A 21-year-old monk self-immolates in a Tibetan area of Sichuan to commemorate the 16 March 2008 protests, crushed in blood by Chinese troops. Police and onlookers clash as the former try to remove the body. Police seal off a nearby monastery as people surround it to prevent a raid.

Dharamsala (AsiaNews) – Police encircled and cordoned off the Kirti Buddhist monastery in Ngaba County (Aba in Chinese), Sichuan, after a young monk, Phuntsok (Phuntsog in Chinese), died from the wounds he suffered when he set himself on fire for Tibet’s freedom. He took such a step to mark the third anniversary of anti-Chinese demonstrations that broke out on 16 March 2008. On that occasion, Chinese soldiers violently put down the protests, shooting at unarmed protesters. At least 13 were killed in Ngaba, and more than 200 across Tibet (pictured, some Tibetans killed by the army in Ngaba on 16 March 2008).

Born in Merima, also in Ngaba County, Phuntsok set fire to himself yesterday in front of the Sopa Hotel, near the main road. Police and passersby tried to put out the fire. People and police later clashed as the latter tried to remove the body. Agents used metal batons to beat onlookers, arresting some of them, including monks from the Kirti monastery.

The abbot and others were eventually able to get police to release seven monks that had been detained, some held over from previous incidents.

During yesterday’s events, police forced shops on the road where the incident took place to close. A crowd of at least 2,000 people, including at least 1,000 monks gathered in front of the Kirti monastery to prevent police from raiding it. At present, police is only allowing people to go inside the monastery, but is preventing monks from leaving it.

In Ngaba, police is usually deployed in greater numbers for the anniversary of the 2008 protests, ready to crack down on any form of protest. In the preceding weeks, it interfered with freedom of movement and communication, going so far as to stop people using public phones in order to check their ID. It also limited the sale of petrol.

When news about the monk’s death spread, people began offering butter lamps and prayers for the deceased.

On 27 February 2009, another young monk, Tabey, set himself on fire in the middle of a road to protest against Chinese rule. Police shot at him to bring him down, quickly taking him away. He survived.

Despite attempts to cover up the incident, the authorities were forced to admit that it had taken place because of pictures taken by eyewitnesses.

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy slammed the violent reaction of police against Pguntsok’s protest.

March is a month charged with dates marking China’s occupation of Tibet and the Tibetan struggle for freedom.

In view of that, Chinese police and military normally increase their controls at this time of the year. On 10 March for example, Ugyen Gelek protested at a market in Kardze County, calling for Tibet’s independence and praising the Dalai Lama. His action did not last very long, as police moved in immediately and took him away.