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Group: Teens set selves on fire, taking Tibet burnings over 50

Ashwini Bhatia/AP

An exile Tibetan places candles on a sculpture known as Tibetan martyr's wall, during a candlelit vigil earlier this month in Dharmsala, India, in solidarity with Tibetans.

The number of Tibetans who have set themselves on fire in protest at Chinese rule of their homeland has topped 50 after two teenagers burned to death in a southwestern corner of the country, a rights group said.

The pair, one an 18-year-old monk and the other a 17-year-old former monk, died on Monday after setting themselves on fire outside the Kirti monastery in Ngaba, a heavily Tibetan part of Sichuan province, the London-based Free Tibet group said.

An eyewitness account quoted by Radio Free Asia described the pair shouting “Ki! Ki!,” a Tibetan battle cry.

Their protest brings to 51 the number of Tibetans who have set themselves alight since 2009, when the burnings first began, according to a Free Tibet statement dated August 27.

At least half of them are believed by rights groups to have died, while scores of other Tibetans have been reported detained by security forces after protests that follow the burnings.

Amid unrest, China bans travel to Tibet

"Free Tibet has grave concerns for the well being of the hundreds of Tibetans who we know are in detention following protests," Free Tibet Director Stephanie Brigden said.

Calls seeking comment to the government in Ngaba, known as Aba in Chinese, were not answered.

Video captured a landslide burying a major highway in Tibet last week. Msnbc.com's Dara Brown reports.

China has branded the self-immolators "terrorists" and criminals, and has blamed the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Dalai Lama, for inciting them.

Beijing considers the Dalai Lama a separatist, while he says he merely seeks greater autonomy for his Himalayan homeland, and denies supporting violence.

Report: Hundreds detained after Tibet self-immolations

Activists say China tramples on religious freedom and culture in Tibet, which has been ruled with an iron rod by the Chinese since 1950. China rejects such criticism, saying its rule ended serfdom and brought development to a backward area.

Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, talks to TODAY's Ann Curry about his conversation with President Obama and his thoughts about the spirit of American resilience.

The self-immolations came two days after a nun in a nearby region staged a protest alone to challenge Beijing’s rule, according ti Radio Free Asia. The nun was detained and taken away.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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