Chinese police have detained an ethnic Tibetan monk and his nephew, accusing them of "goading" eight people into setting themselves on fire.
Lorang Konchok, a 40-year-old monk at Kirti monastery in southwestern Sichuan, had incited self immolations "on the instructions of the Dalai Lama and his followers," state news agency Xinhua reported on Sunday.
Xinhua said a police investigation and a confession from the monk showed he had recruited eight people since 2009. Three of the protesters died, the report added.
Campaigners say that more than 90 ethnic Tibetans -- men and women -- have set themselves on fire since 2009 in a series of dramatic protests against Beijing's treatment of Tibetans.
Because of Chinese restrictions on reporting in Tibetan regions, these acts have been difficult to confirm.
The self-immolations have increased in frequency during recent months, with 28 setting themselves alight in November alone.
Xinhua did not detail what evidence police had of the involvement of the Tibetan spiritual leader. The Tibetan government-in-exile in India was not immediately available to comment.
The monk used his position at the monastery to encourage others to self-immolate, saying the act was not against Buddhist doctrines and those who did it were heroes, the report said.
Konchok recruited his 31-year-old nephew, Lorang Tsering, to help and the pair collected personal information and took pictures of those who agreed to go ahead with the self immolations, it added.
The monk also promised to "spread their deeds abroad so they and their families would be acknowledged and honored," Xinhua cited a police statement as saying.
Last week, Maria Otero, the U.S. special co-ordinator for Tibetan issues, said in a statement that tough Chinese policies in Tibetan areas had exacerbated tensions, including the immolations.
"Chinese authorities have responded to these tragic incidents with measures that tighten already strict controls on freedoms of religion, expression, assembly and association of Tibetans," she said.
The statement provoked a harsh reaction from Beijing.
The arrests also follow the release of a legal document last week that appears to stipulate that anyone caught helping someone self-immolate should be held liable for intentional homicide.
"Organizing, plotting, inciting, coercing, enticing, abetting, or assisting others to carry out self-immolations is, at its essence, a serious criminal act that intentionally deprives another of his or her life," the Gannan Daily newspaper said in a commentary on December 3, according to a translation by the Dui Hua foundation.
Beijing says Tibet has been a part of China since the 13th century and regards the Dalai Lama as a terrorist.
The Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising, has long denied China's assertion that he's seeking Tibetan independence.
He says he wants only an autonomy that would offer protection for their traditional Buddhist culture.