Two people in an ethnically Tibetan part of southwest China set themselves on fire on Friday, an advocacy group said, bringing the number of self-immolations in protest against religious controls imposed by the Chinese government to 14 since March.

Witnesses saw a man set himself on fire near the Kirti Monastery in Aba prefecture in Sichuan province at around 2:50 p.m. local time, London-based Free Tibet said in an emailed statement.

The group cited sources as saying the man called for the return of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, before Chinese security forces put out the flames and removed him. The condition of the man, not believed to be a Buddhist monk, was not known.

A second self-immolation occurred nearby at about the same time, Free Tibet said. It quoted sources as saying the person died at the scene before their body was removed.

The group's statement was released late Friday night, making it impossible to verify the incidents with Chinese authorities.

The other Tibetans who have set themselves on fire in the past 10 months, most of them Buddhist monks, nuns and some former clergy, were said to have called for freedom for Tibet and the return of the 76-year-old Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959.

At least six of the incidents have been fatal.

For the Chinese government, the protests are a small but destabilising challenge to its regional policies, which it says have lifted Tibetans out of poverty and servitude.

Most people in Aba are ethnic Tibetan herders and farmers, and many see themselves as members of a wider Tibetan region encompassing what China calls the Tibetan Autonomous Region and other areas across the vast highlands of the country's west.

DESPERATE CONDITIONS

China has ruled Tibet since Communist troops marched in 1950 and says Tibetans are free to practise their Buddhist faith.

China's Foreign Ministry has branded the self-immolators terrorists and has said the Dalai Lama, whom it condemns as a supporter of violent separatism, should take the blame for the immoral burnings.

The Dalai Lama has not condemned or condoned the burnings but said the desperate conditions Tibetans face under Beijing's rigid controls in what amounted to cultural genocide have led to the spate of self-immolations.

He denies advocating violence and separatism and insists he wants only real autonomy for his homeland.

In March 2008, deadly riots against the Chinese presence spread across the Tibet Autonomous Region and Tibetan regions ahead of the Beijing Olympics, triggering sometimes deadly confrontations with troops and police.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Sophie Hares)