BEIJING (Reuters) - A former Tibetan Buddhist monk has set himself on fire in the mountainous region of Tibet, the 12th Tibetan this year to resort to the extreme form of protest in China, an overseas advocacy group said on Friday.
Tenzin Phuntsog set himself ablaze on Thursday in the Changdu prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region -- the first time that a self-immolation has occurred in the Himalayan plateau, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet said in a statement, citing exiled Tibetan sources.
The monk survived the incident and has been hospitalised, the group said. Accounts of the incident were posted in Tibetan on social networking websites such as microblogs and Facebook, it said.
The other 11 Tibetan monks and nuns, some former clergy, who had set themselves on fire since March this year were said to have called for the return of the 76-year-old Dalai Lama, who fled to exile in India in 1959, and for freedom for Tibet.
At least six of the incidents have been fatal.
On the latest incident, a government official from Tibet told Reuters: "We have not got any information about the case." Police in the Changdu prefecture declined to comment, saying they never answer questions from reporters.
The former monk was from the Karma monastery in the town of Chamdo, the International Campaign for Tibet said, citing a source, adding that other sources have told the group the monastery was under lockdown following a rumoured bomb blast at a local government building in late October.
The group's account could not be independently verified because foreign reporters are not allowed to travel to the Tibet Autonomous Region without permission. The Chinese government has yet to organise a trip this year. Such trips for journalists to visit the area usually happen annually.
For the Chinese government, the protests are a small but destabilising challenge to its regional policies, which it says have lifted Tibetans out of poverty and servitude.
The Minister of Public Security, Meng Jianzhu, called on Tibetan Buddhist monks to "carry forward the tradition of loving the nation and Buddhism" during a tour of southwestern Sichuan province, where 11 self-immolations have occurred.
Meng toured Aba county in the Aba prefecture, the site of eight self-immolations, in the last week of November, and met security officers and Tibetan Buddhist monks, the ministry of public security said in a statement on its website on Thursday.
His visit was the first by a high-level central government official since the self-immolations started in March.
China has ruled what it calls the Tibet Autonomous Region since Communist troops marched in 1950. China's Foreign Ministry has branded the self-immolators "terrorists" and has said the Dalai Lama, whom it condemns as a supporter of violent separatism, should take the blame for the "immoral" burnings.
In March 2008, deadly riots against the Chinese presence spread across the Tibet Autonomous Region and Tibetan regions ahead of the Beijing Olympics, triggering sometimes deadly confrontations with troops and police.
The Dalai Lama, revered by Tibetans, has not condemned or condoned the burnings but said the desperate conditions Tibetans face under Beijing's rigid controls in what amounted to "cultural genocide" have led to the spate of self-immolations.
He denies advocating violence and insists he wants only real autonomy for his homeland.
(Additional reporting by Huang Yan; Editing by Paul Tait)