A Tibetan artist has died after setting himself on fire in the latest self-immolation protesting Chinese rule, and residents are afraid to leave their homes because large numbers of security forces are in the area, the Tibetan government-in-exile and an activist group said Sunday.

The man set fire to himself Sunday morning in Tongren, a monastery town in western China's Qinghai province, said the exile government based in Dharamsala, India, and London-based Free Tibet.

A photo on the exile government's website showed a burned body wrapped in traditional orange scarves and surrounded by monks.

Free Tibet identified the dead person as Dorje Lungdup, 25, a father of two children and an artist of traditional Thangka religious paintings. It said thousands of people reportedly gathered to say prayers for him, and that people decided to cremate his body soon after to prevent authorities from interfering.

A representative of Dorje Lungdup's family told the crowd that he set fire to himself to call for the return of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and begged them not to protest for the sake of their own safety, Free Tibet said.

Dozens of ethnic Tibetans have set themselves on fire in heavily Tibetan regions since March 2011 to protest what activists say is Beijing's heavy-handed rule in the region. Many have called for the return of the Dalai Lama.

Free Tibet said residents of Tongren were afraid to leave their homes because of large numbers of security forces on the streets and restrictions on movement. It said the Internet and mobile communications were being interrupted to prevent the spread of information.

A man at the Tongren county government said he couldn't hear clearly and asked The Associated Press to call back. Calls then rang unanswered, as did calls to police.