© Jacky Chen / Reuters / REUTERS
Policemen take pictures of the unfolding of a giant thangka, a religious silk embroidery or painting unique to Tibet, during the Shoton Festival at Drepung Monastery on the outskirts of Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region August 29, 2011.
Beijing has banned foreign tourists from traveling to Tibet, reports from the region said Thursday. The news comes amid growing unrest in the Chinese-ruled region, including self-immolations by ethnic Tibetans.
Travel agents have been told that the Himalayan region is off-limits to foreign travelers, the Voice of America and other news services reported on Thursday. They said there was no word on when the ban might be lifted.
The ban comes at the start of the Saga Dawa festival celebrating the birth of Buddha, an event on the Tibetan calendar that traditionally prompts a large influx of Buddhist pilgrims and tourists to Tibet.
This year, foreigners are unable to obtain permits to travel there during the celebration, according to the reports.
"It was halted in late May. People said it was because of the ... festival," an employee at the Tibet China Travel Service told AFP.
Long-simmering unrest among China's ethnic Tibetan population erupted into large-scale protests in Tibet in March 2008, and the government responded with a crackdown. Tibet was closed to foreign tourists for more than a year, and security remains tight.
CCTV VIA APTN file
A video image from Llasa in March 2008, when Tibetan unrest erupted into the largest and most violent protests against Chinese rule of Tibet in nearly two decades. The protests were crushed by Chinese military forces, foreign travel to the region was banned for about a year and security has remained tight.
Since March of 2011, more than 30 people are known to have set themselves on fire in protest of Chinese rule, alleged human rights violations and massive immigration to Tibet by Han Chinese, according to the pro-independence advocacy group Free Tibet, which has documented cases of self-immolation.
The group said two people set themselves on fire in front of the iconic Jokhang Temple in Llasa in late May — the first reported self-immolation cases in Tibet’s capital city.
Increasingly, Tibetans have risked arrest to circulate videos of immolations and other protests for independence or greater self-determination, the group said.
Foreigners traveling to Tibet generally face more restrictions than when traveling in China, and the Chinese government rarely issues permits for foreign journalists to visit the region.
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