The Chinese New Year has already gotten off to a rocky start in China, following reports that a Tibetan activist was killed during a clash with police in the Sichuan province in the southeastern part of the country.

The clash reportedly erupted in the county of Draggo (which the Chinese call Luhuo) in the Tibetan-dominated part of western Sichuan, which borders China's official Tibetan Autonomous Region.

However, there are some conflicting accounts over what actually happened during the confrontation. Since foreign media are barred from the region, it is impossible the independently verify any news that emanates from there.

Human rights groups claim that Chinese security forces fired upon dozens of Tibetan protesters during a protest march.

Free Tibet, a London-based human rights organization, said that the unarmed demonstrators were calling for freedom when security forces and policemen began shooting them, resulting in the wounding of at least 30 people.

“The dead man has been named as Norpa Yonten, a 49-year-old lay person from Norpa village, Norchung township in Draggo County. His body has been taken to the nearby Draggo monastery,” Free Tibet stated.

”At least one other person has been taken to the monastery with gunshot wounds. Locals are fearful to take the injured to hospital in case they are arrested.”

Free Tibet added: “It is still unclear what sparked the protest. There are reports that Tibetans around Draggo were arrested this morning on suspicion of distributing leaflets and posters calling for freedom and the protest was a response to these arbitrary detentions. There are also claims that it was in response to celebrations marking the Chinese New Year which many local Tibetans had decided to boycott due to the growing unrest.

Some Tibetans were reportedly also calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in Tibet.

But the state-controlled Xinhua news agency said that while one man was indeed killed, nine others, including five policemen were injured and put the blame for the violence squarely on the demonstrators.

Xinhua alleged that dozens of local people, including monks ''stormed and smashed some stores along a main street and a police station'' and that an armed mob attacked policemen and state vehicles.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said overseas secessionist groups are seeking to discredit the Beijing government by exaggerating

At present, Luhuo County has been returned to order and local authorities have been conducting an investigation into the incident, Hong added.

The Chinese government will, as always, fight all crimes and be resolute in maintaining normal social order.”

Unrest among Tibetans has accelerated over the past year, with at least 16 people having set themselves on fire to protest Chinese repression.

China has repeatedly condemned the self-immolators as “terrorists” and charged that the Dalai Lama is encouraging their activities.