Free Tibet, a campaign group opposed to Beijing's annexation of the former Himalayan kingdom, said Friday that Chinese officials had destroyed the Larung Gar center for Tibetan Buddhist learning.
The London-based exile group says government workers began evicting residents of the Tibetan Buddhist center on Thursday and immediately used heavy equipment to tear down structures that had housed some 10,000 monks and nuns.
A local government official told the Associated Press by telephone Thursday that the complex was being renovated, not destroyed, but did not elaborate. The official gave only her surname, Zhang, because she was not authorized to speak to the media.
According to activists, local authorities in Sichuan Province distributed an order in June to reduce the number of monks and nuns living there by half to 5,000, citing overcrowding concerns.
Chinese government teams previously evicted thousands of monks in 2001, but the site in rural Sertar County in Kardze, Eastern Tibet has continued to swell significantly in the years since.
Founded in 1980, the Larung Gar mountainside academy attracts thousands of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns for short- and long-term study in the religion's esoteric aspects. They typically stay in a sprawling mountainside settlement made of thousands of log cabins.
China annexed Tibet nearly 60 years ago and named it an "autonomous province" that is part-and-parcel Chinese territory. But many Tibetan exiles accuse China of deliberately repressing their Buddhist religion and culture by destroying religious sites and resettling millions of ethnic Han Chinese in the Himalayan territory.
More than 140 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009- most of them fatally - in protest against Beijing's rule.