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The U.S. State Department says the spate of self-immolations in Tibetan areas of southwestern China are not the work of outcasts or troublemakers as China contends, but rather the desperate acts of people who are being denied their basic human rights.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Maria Otero also rejected China's assertion that spiritual leader the Dalai Lama is encouraging the fiery protests.
"Clearly these self-immolations are not only desperate acts, but desperate acts born of the frustration and the despair that people feel as they see the increased violations of their human rights, and the increased restrictions [imposed] on Buddhist monasteries," said Otero.
Otero also leveled fresh criticism at Beijing for its ongoing crackdown on Tibetan dissent, instead of engaging Tibetan officials in talks aimed at easing tensions in the far-flung Tibetan regions of China. She said members of her staff have discussed conditions in eastern Tibet with monks and found they are clearly committed to their way of life.
"They see [monastic] life as a real reflection of the beliefs of the Tibetan people," said Otero. "And the only way they can respond to the restrictions and repressions [from Beijing] that are now becoming stronger and stronger is to take these acts of desperation."
Otero spoke the same day two more Tibetan activists set themselves on fire to protest a widely-perceived lack of freedoms under Chinese rule.
The two protesters, one of whom died at the scene, were carrying Tibetan national flags and calling for the safe return of the exiled Dalai Lama as they launched their fiery protest in China's western Qinghai province.
They were the 43rd and 44th Tibetans to self-immolate since March of 2011, when Chinese security forces launched a push to lock down the region to prevent public signs of dissent.
Beijing says the immolations incite separatism and are directed from outside the country. But representatives of the Dalai Lama, who lives in northern India, say protesters are driven to self-immolate in large part because they can no longer tolerate Beijing's ongoing push against Tibetan culture and religion.