China has arrested nine Buddhist monks and accused them of planting a homemade bomb in a government office building in Tibet last month, the official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday.
There were no known deaths or damage from the first reported bombing since anti-government protests by monks began March 10 in the Tibetan capital Lhasa.
Xinhua said that nine monks from Tongxia monastery confessed to taking part in the bombing in Gyanbe Township in Tibet on March 23. One of the suspects allegedly used a motorcycle to transport the bomb to the building, where it was planted by the rest and then detonated, the news agency said.
Xinhua did not explain why the alleged incident was not reported earlier.
A man who answered the phone at the local Gongjue county Public Security Bureau confirmed that nine suspects had been detained — six for planting the bomb and three for shielding the suspects and covering up their crimes. The man refused to give his name because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
A woman at the Tibetan Regional Public Security Department said she was not sure about the case because it was still under investigation. She also declined to be named.
China's accusations mount
The protests in Lhasa turned violent on March 14, with hundreds of shops torched and Chinese civilians attacked. China says 22 people were killed in the riots, and more than 1,000 have already been detained.
Earlier this month China accused Tibet independence forces of organizing suicide squads to launch violent attacks against China. Wu Heping, spokesman for China's Ministry of Public Security, also claimed searches of monasteries in the Tibetan capital had turned up a large cache of weapons.
Scholars say the accusations help the government justify its crackdown and demonize the opposition while driving a wedge between the government-in-exile and groups like the Tibetan Youth Congress that have challenged the Dalai Lama's policy of nonviolence.
On Friday, China labeled a group linked to the Dalai Lama's India-based government-in-exile a "terrorist organization" — building on claims that recent anti-Chinese protests were part of a violent campaign to overthrow Chinese rule and sabotage the Beijing Olympics in August.
Allegations against Tibet Youth Congress
Xinhua News Agency accused the Tibetan Youth Congress of planning the riots in Lhasa. As evidence, Xinhua cited alleged statements and speeches by Youth Congress leaders, as well as a purported plot to smuggle weapons into Tibet to launch attacks. The allegations were impossible to verify.
The Tibetan Youth Congress has said China's communist leadership had long sought to destroy its effectiveness by smearing its reputation.
In his first public comments on the protests, Chinese President Hu Jintao took a hard line Saturday on the unrest in Tibet, saying problems in the region are an internal affair that directly threatens Chinese sovereignty.
"Our conflict with the Dalai clique is not an ethnic problem, not a religious problem, nor a human rights problem," Xinhua quoted Hu as saying, referring to supporters of the Dalai Lama. "It is a problem either to safeguard national unification or to split the motherland."