Monks resort to an extreme form of protest to get the world's attention


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The Independent Online

The young monk sits in the front of a truck, the skin on his chest charred and mottled. As the video continues, you can see that his head is badly burned. There are pink splotches on his body where the skin has disappeared entirely. He doesn't appear to make a sound.

Lobsang Phuntsog, a Tibetan Buddhist from Ngaba, set himself on fire on the afternoon of 16 March, in protest at China's continued occupation of his homeland. After a scuffle between monks and police, the young man, believed to be 21, was eventually taken to hospital. He died from his burns at around 3am the following morning.

His actions that day, the aftermath of which was filmed by a witness, was the first in a series of self-immolations in eastern Tibet that has now turned into a wave. In the past two weeks, at least five young Tibetans are known to have set themselves on fire, a macabre and markedly new episode in the struggle for autonomy and a tactic that could force the Chinese authorities to review their behaviour.

"The monks are taking extreme steps, sending across messages to the world as to the reality and situation inside Tibet," said Kusho Kanyag Tsering, a monk who fled Tibet as a young boy and who now lives in Dharamsala, in northern India. "They pay [with] their lives for freedom and justice."

Kate Saunders, a spokeswoman for the London-based ICT, said: "This has become a life-and-death struggle. It's about sheer survival."

A week ago Kalsang Wangchuk, an 18-year-old monk from Kirti, set himself alight close to a vegetable market in Ngaba. He was said to have been holding a photograph of the Dalai Lama and shouted slogans and he set himself on fire, reportedly incurring serious burns. Observers say the self-immolations represent a distinct new chapter in the struggle by Tibetans against Chinese rule that has continued since Beijing seized control in 1950.

Stephanie Brigden, a director of Free Tibet, said: "It is now evident there are many courageous young Tibetans who are determined to draw global attention to one of the world's greatest and longest-standing human rights crises, no matter the cost to themselves."

Last night, a spokesman for the Dalai Lama said he was fully aware of the immolations and was "concerned" but had yet to make a public statement.