Police detained a monk and his nephew in China's Sichuan province and accused them of instigating the self-immolations of eight ethnic Tibetans on the instructions of the Dalai Lama and his followers, state media said.
The report in the official Xinhua News Agency did not detail what evidence police had of the exiled Buddhist spiritual leader's involvement — which was denied by the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile in northern India.
The report Sunday cited a police statement as saying that confessions and an investigation showed that the detained monk, Lorang Konchok , 40, from Kirti Monastery in Sichuan's Aba county, kept in frequent contact with supporters of the Dalai Lama overseas and had recruited eight volunteers for self-immolations since 2009, telling them they would be "heroes." Three of the protesters died, the report said.
It said Lorang Konchok collected photos and personal information of volunteers who agreed to go ahead with the protests.
"He also promised to spread their 'deeds' abroad so they and their families would be acknowledged and honored," the police statement said, according to Xinhua.
The monk's nephew, Lorang Tsering, 31, helped recruit volunteers and also was arrested, the report said.
Activists say more than 90 ethnic Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 in dramatic protests against authoritarian Chinese rule. Chinese officials have called the protests "cruel and inhuman" and sought to blame them on the Dalai Lama and other instigators, while activists call them home-grown expressions of desperation over oppression. The Dalai Lama has said he opposes all violence.
The Tibetan government-in-exile, based in Dharmsala, India, said it "strongly denied" any accusations of involvement by its representatives or the Dalai Lama.
"We believe that (the suspects) have been forced to make these confessions," spokesman Lobsang Choedak said. "We would welcome the Chinese government investigating whether we are instigating these immolations."
Police in Sichuan declined to comment on the case.
Tibet and surrounding ethnically Tibetan regions have been closed off to most outsiders, and firsthand information from the areas is extremely difficult to obtain.
The Chinese government says it has improved the well-being of Tibetan areas through rapid economic development over the past 30 years, but Tibetan activists complain that their culture, language and Buddhist religion are under threat.
The United States last week accused Beijing of responding to the self-immolations by tightening controls over freedom of religion, expression and assembly in Tibetan areas, drawing an angry response from Beijing, which said those freedoms were guaranteed under the Chinese Constitution.