A fire broke out on Saturday at Lhasa's Jokhang Monastery, one of the holiest sites for Tibetan Buddhism. The cause of the fire is unknown or has not yet been revealed. It has a history of more than 1,300 years and houses many cultural treasures, including a life-sized statue of Sakyamuni when he was 12 years old.
Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua said that the fire was put out soon and that there were no casualties.
No casualties have been reported so far and local authorities said that the relics remained intact.
Jokhang Monastery - also known as Dazhao Temple - is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Barnett said he received calls from distraught Tibetans mourning the apparent destruction of one of their most sacred sites.
But on Twitter, which is blocked in China, Tibetans overseas noted that photos and posts about the fire were quickly being censored.
But Beijing says its rule has brought economic growth to Tibet and that Tibetans still have extensive freedoms.
The fire comes as Tibetans celebrate Losar, their traditional new year, which began on Friday. "People are hugely concerned, rightly or wrongly, that the damage might be much more severe than the media is letting on".
China has ruled Tibet since the 1950s, and has been accused of trying to eradicate its Buddhist-based culture through political and religious repression.
Foreign journalists are banned from visiting Tibet except on state-sponsored tours.
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