UN leader Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday expressed concern for the health of three Tibetans outside the United Nations headquarters engaged in a hunger strike to highlight troubles in the Chinese region.
"The secretary general affirms the right of all people to peaceful protest. He is, however, very concerned about the health of the hunger striking protesters," Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky said as the protest entered a fourth week.
The three men outside the United Nations building in New York attracted growing attention as western China was hit by protests by ethnic Tibetans on the anniversary of unrest in 2008. One monk set himself on fire and students took to the streets, rights groups said.
UN assistant secretary general Ivan Simonovic met a representative of the Tibetan Youth Congress in New York on Monday, the UN spokesman said.
The Congress has been representing the protesters -- Dorjee Gyalpo, Yeshi Tenzing and a lama Shingza Rimpoche -- who sat in the street wrapped in blankets.
They have been taking only water since February 22 to back demands for a UN fact-finding mission in Tibet, and international pressure on China to end what they call an "undeclared martial law" in Tibet.
Simonovic "said he would convey the group's concerns to the relevant special rapporteur and the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva in line with established procedure in line with handling human rights matters," the UN spokesman told a briefing.
The UN assistant secretary general also met on Monday with China's deputy ambassador to the United Nations and briefed Ban's office on the talks. No details were made public of the meeting however.
Tibetan Youth Congress president Tsewang Rigzin said "this UN statement is welcome but it is not enough. We want real UN support for the people of Tibet."
China is extremely sensitive to international criticism on Tibet, where there have been a growing number of self-immolation protests in recent months.
Many Tibetans in China complain of religious repression, as well as a gradual erosion of their culture, which they blame on a growing influx of majority Han Chinese in areas where they live.
China, which put down a 1959 uprising led by the Dalai Lama -- who is currently in exile -- says Tibetans now lead better lives than ever thanks to huge government investment. The Beijing government accuses overseas organizations of seeking independence for Tibet and blames the Dalai Lama for the unrest.