Stephen Smith, the Australian foreign minister, said Chinese officials told an Australian diplomat who visited Lhasa after the incident that the monks would not face reprisals.

 

"The delegation received an assurance that monks who protested effectively in the presence of international journalists a few days prior to the diplomats' arrival would not be punished," Smith said.

 

The monks' outburst offered a rare insight into continuing Tibetan dissatisfaction with China's rule since security forces clamped down on the Himalayan region following a protests in Lhasa.

 

The Australian diplomat was part of a group of 17 foreign officials from 15 countries who visited Lhasa at the weekend after Beijing bowed to international calls to allow diplomats into the Himalayan region.

 

Human rights groups are urging China to allow
access to detainees [GALLO/GETTY]

Smith said China had taken a step in the right direction by allowing diplomats to visit Tibet following weeks of protests against Beijing's rule there, but said it was disappointing that they had been constantly monitored.

 

"At all times, the delegation was in the presence of Chinese officials," he told reporters in Perth.

 

"The best way forward, in the Australian government's view in this matter, is for China to be open and transparent about Tibet, to open itself up to scrutiny, whether by international media or by diplomats."

 

Meanwhile, China's state-run media has reported that authorities have detained what they say are the chief suspects in four arson and murder cases stemming from the recent anti-government protests in Lhasa.

 

The suspects have been linked to fires in fires in three clothing shops where five young women were burned to death, the Tibet Daily newspaper reported on Monday.

 

The report quoted officials in Tibet as saying a total of 414 suspects have been arrested in connection with the anti-government riots, while another 298 people had turned themselves in.

 

Human rights groups have urged Chinese officials to release the names of everyone detained and allow international monitors access to assess their welfare.

 

China's Premier Wen Jiabao said during a visit to Laos on Sunday that Lhasa was "basically stable" and "social order has returned to normal."

 

The protests in Tibet erupted on March 10 as demonstrators marked the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule.

 

The demonstrations escalated into widespread rioting in the city, which then spread to neighbouring Chinese provinces populated by Tibetans.

 

Beijing says rioters killed 18 civilians and two police officers, but exiled Tibetan leaders have put the death toll from the Chinese crackdown at 135-140 Tibetans, with another 1,000 injured and many detained.