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Self-Immolations Continue in Rebkong, Two Die in Protest

Two Tibetans have set themselves on fire in China protest today in Rebkong (Chinese: Tongren) in Malho (Chinese: Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province.

18-year-old Kabum Gyal burned himself around 11am local time in Gewo Luchu Thang and 23-year-old Dangzin Dolma set herself ablaze in Tsenmo around noon. Both are known to have died after their self-immolations.

A source tells VOA that Dolma shouted slogans calling for return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet while on fire. She is reported to be from a rural nomadic family.

The new self-immolations bring the total number to at least 74 since February of 2009. Ten Tibetans have set themselves on fire across different Tibetan regions since last Wednesday to demand return of the Dalai Lama and freedom for Tibet.

The recent protests have taken place place just as China embarked on its leadership transition. London-based Free Tibet Director Stephanie Brigden said the protests were clearly aimed "at sending the next generation of China’s unelected regime a clear signal that Tibetans will continue to fight for their freedom despite China’s efforts to suppress and intimidate them."

Self-Immolations in Rebkong

There have been six self-immolations in Rebkong this month, mostly by young Tibetan men and women. Today's protests bring the number of total self-immolations in Rebkong since March to nine.

Nyingkar Tashi
Nyingkar Tashi
On Monday, two young men self-immolated and succumbed to their burns within hours of each other in Dowa Township in Rebkong. Nyingkar Tashi, 24, and Nyingchag Bum, 18, burned themselves and the latter’s self-immolation was witnessed by hundreds of local people.

Last Wednesday, Tamding Tso, a 23-year-old Tibetan woman from Rebkong died after setting herself on fire. On Sunday, Dorjee Lhundup, a 25-year old artist from the same area self-immolated and died at the scene of the protest. Jamyang Palden, 34, a monk from Rongwo Monastery, was the first to set himself on fire on March 14, followed by Sonam Dhargyal, 44, on March 17, in Rebkong.

All self-immolators from Rebkong have called for return of the Dalai Lama back to Tibet, an end to repression on Tibetans and freedom for Tibet.

Protests in Rebkong

Aftermath increasing self-immolations in Rebkong, thousands of Tibetansm, mostly students have taken to the streets and marched on government offices on Friday to demonstrate support for protestors and in reaction to the death of young self-immolaters.

Rebkong has witnessed numerous protests in the past. On April 17, 2008, Rebkong monks demanded the release of monks detained during the wave of protests in March 2008. Many were detained following the peaceful protest including 43 years old Shedrup who later committed suicide upon his release.

Thousands of Tibetan students stage protests in Rebkong, northwestern China's Qinghai province, 19 Oct 2010
Thousands of Tibetan students stage protests in Rebkong, northwestern China's Qinghai province, 19 Oct 2010
​Another mass student protests in Rebkong occurred in 2010, when demonstrators spoke out against China's plans to replace Tibetan with Chinese as the language of instruction in local schools.Several ​hundred Tibetan students in Rebkong protested China’s new measures to increase Chinese-language medium teaching and undermine Tibetan language study. The students have staged protests outside government offices calling for equality of people and freedom of language.

In April 2012, around 300 Tibetans marched to the streets with banners to protest local Chinese authorities in Rebkong, calling an end to police brutality in the region. Confrontation between local Tibetans and police sparked the mass protest. Rebkong is traditionally known for its high quality artisanship and scholarship and there are concerns of Rebkong transitioning from a place of cultural and religious significance to a tourist site.

Cremation Ceremonies Drawing Crowds

Funerals and cremation ceremonies for self-immolators have been drawing larger and larger crowds, sometimes numbering the thousands. Sources report gathering of Tibetans from local area in Tsemo for a grand funderal of Dangzin Dolma.

Last Thursday, a large number of Tibetans gathered to mourn at the funeral of Kalsang Jinpa, who set himself on fire to protest China's policies on Tibet.

Large number of Tibetans gather at Dorjee Lhundup's Cremation
Large number of Tibetans gather at Dorjee Lhundup's Cremation
​Following Dorjee Lhundup's self-immolation earlier this month, Tibetans wrapped his body in traditional Tibetan scarves and carried his body to the Dolma Square where a large number of Tibetans including monks and nuns gathered to offer their prayers.

After Sonam Dhargey's self-immolation on March 17, local Tibetans had carried Sonam's body to Dolma Square where more than 8000 Tibetans gathered to pay their last respects and mark their protest against the Chinese government.

Monks gather at Dolma grounds after Jamyang Palden's self-immolation
Monks gather at Dolma grounds after Jamyang Palden's self-immolation
​Dolma square, the main ground in front of the Rongwo monastery has been the center of the self-immolation protests in Rebkong since Jamyang Palden first burned himself infront of the square in March 14, 2012. Mass of Tibetans gathered at the Dolma grounds after Jamyang Palden's self-immolation.

Reactions to Self-Immolations

In Dharamsala, exiled Tibetans have regularly gathered through special prayer services. Head of the Tibetan administration-in-exile yesterday called for a Global solidarity day on December 10 to bring awareness of the series of self-immolations in Tibet.

Last week, Tibetan administration in Dharamsala pleaded with China to change its approach to the issue of Tibet. Parliament Speaker Pempa Tsering says it may be the only way to stop the deadly protests. He also lamented that many Tibetans feel they have no choice but to burn themselves alive to make their cries heard.

This month the United Nations' most senior human rights official urged China to allow independent monitors and journalists to visit Tibetan areas where immolations have taken place. On Friday, regional representatives attending the People's Congress in Beijing rejected the proposal.

China has long accused Tibetan exiles including the Dalai Lama of insgitating self-immolations as part of a separatist struggle, denouncing them as terrorists. The Tibetan spiritual leader said Monday China needs to conduct a "serious investigation" into the self-immolations rather than just place the blame on him.