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BEIJING (Reuters) - Three Tibetans in southwestern China have set themselves ablaze in protest against Chinese rule, Radio Free Asia reported, the latest in a series of self-immolations over the past year.
The three set themselves on fire on Friday in Seda county, known as Serthar in Tibetan, in Sichuan province, calling for freedom for Tibet and the return of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, the U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia broadcast and online news service said on Saturday, citing three sources, one of whom is in exile.
One person died at the scene, while the other two -- Tsaptsai Tsering, 60, and Kyarel, 30 -- were seriously injured, it said, citing unidentified sources. It said it could not identify the dead person.
Seda was among the three sites of violent clashes between security forces and demonstrators in Sichuan in late January that marked the bloodiest spate of Tibetan-linked violence in China since early 2008. Riots and protests erupted then in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, and spread to other restive regions in China's western border regions including Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu provinces.
Calls to officials in Seda county were unanswered on Sunday.
If the latest incident is confirmed, at least 13 of the 19 Tibetans who have self-immolated in the past 11 months -- most of whom were Buddhist monks and nuns -- are believed to have died.
For the Chinese government, the self-immolations are a small but destabilizing challenge to its regional policies, which it says have lifted Tibetans out of poverty and servitude.
China has branded the immolators as terrorists and blamed Tibetan separatist forces for fomenting hatred among the people.
Security forces have clamped down on the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas of China, setting up road blocks and cutting off some communications, making it impossible for journalists and others to independently verify conflicting accounts.
Tibetan advocacy groups say as many as seven Tibetans were shot dead and dozens wounded during the protests in January. China's official Xinhua news agency reported that police fired in self-defense on "mobs" that stormed police stations.
China has ruled what it calls the Tibet Autonomous Region since Communist troops marched in 1950. It rejects criticism that it is eroding Tibetan culture and faith, saying its rule has ended serfdom and brought development to a backward region.
On Saturday, U.S. Senator John McCain warned China's Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun that "the Arab Spring is coming to China" and highlighted the number of Tibetans burning themselves to death in China.
Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher