BEIJING, April 19, 2011 (AFP) - China hit back Tuesday at US criticism of its handling of unrest at a major Tibetan Buddhist monastery that prompted the Dalai Lama to warn of "catastrophic consequences" if the situation worsened.
The United States last week criticised the use of force by Chinese authorities to put down demonstrations by monks at Kirti monastery in a Tibetan region of the southwestern province of Sichuan.
The unrest at the monastery was triggered by the self-immolation of a monk last month, an act apparently meant as an anti-China protest.
"We ask the US side to respect facts and stop making irresponsible remarks," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.
"According to our knowledge, the monks in the Kirti monastery enjoy a normal life and normal Buddhist activities, and the local social order is also normal."
The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) and local residents say the monastery has been sealed off by authorities.
The New York-based ICT said police have unleashed attack dogs on residents outside the monastery and beat people when they tried to prevent authorities from entering the compound.
A resident who lives near Kirti said the monastery remained closed to the public. "It seems the monks can't go outside either," she told AFP by phone.
A monk at the monastery reached by phone on Monday told AFP it was "inconvenient" to talk, suggesting he was being monitored, and urged journalists to visit the area to see "the truth."
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said last week the intervention by security forces at the monastery was "inconsistent with internationally recognised principles of religious freedom and human rights."
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, on Saturday urged monks and other Tibetans at Kirti not to do anything to further provoke Chinese government forces.
"I am very concerned that this situation, if allowed to go on, may become explosive with catastrophic consequences," he added.
Hong acknowledged that local authorities had imposed measures to "prevent unidentified people from entering the monastery", but said police and monks were "treating each other in a friendly manner".
Many Tibetans are angry about what they view as increasing domination by China's majority Han ethnic group and accuse the government of trying to dilute their culture, with Tibet's Buddhist monks a focal point of resistance.
This resentment erupted in violent demonstrations in March 2008 in Tibet's capital Lhasa, which then spread to neighbouring areas. Authorities have increased security in the region since then.