A Chinese religious official has accused a high-ranking Tibetan Buddhist close to the Dalai Lama of using extremist teachings to push monks to set fire to themselves, state media reported Friday.
Nine Buddhist monks and two nuns have set themselves alight in ethnically Tibetan parts of southwest China this year in protest at religious repression.
Many came from Kirti monastery in Aba county, which has been under virtual lockdown since a young monk named Phuntsog set light to himself and died in March, sparking mass protests there.
The People's Daily, seen as the mouthpiece of China's Communist Party, quoted the head of Aba's religious bureau as saying a high-ranking lama from Kirti who fled to India in 1959 had encouraged the desperate acts of protest.
The monk "advocated that those who self-immolated were 'national heroes' and 'freedom fighters', and thereby pushed for Buddhist disciples to self-immolate and commit suicide", the report quoted Song Tendargye as saying.
The report did not identify the lama by name, but said he was close to the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader.
It appears to refer to Kirti Rinpoche, the exiled head of the monastery who fled to the northern Indian town of Dharamshala with the Dalai Lama in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet.
The latest comments come after Beijing last month called the Dalai Lama's stance on the self-immolations "terrorism in disguise" and said he had "played up such issues to incite more people to follow suit".
The Dalai Lama, who is revered in China's Tibetan areas, recently said those setting themselves alight were courageous, but questioned how effective self-immolation was as a form of protest against Chinese rule.
Earlier this month, Kirti Rinpoche told a US Congress commission in Washington that Tibetans in China lacked freedom. Most ethnic Tibetans in China "live in a situation which is like house arrest in any other country", he said.
Many Tibetans in China accuse the government of enacting religious repression and of eroding their culture, as the country's majority Han ethnic group increasingly moves into historically Tibetan areas.
China refutes this, saying Tibetans enjoy religious freedom and pointing to huge investment in development that it says has brought modernisation and a better standard of living.