DHARAMSHALA, India — The Dalai Lama has urged restraint in a standoff with security forces at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in China, warning of "catastrophic consequences" if the situation deteriorates.

"I urge both the monks and the lay Tibetans of the area not to do anything that might be used as a pretext by the local authorities to massively crack down on them," the exiled spiritual leader said in a statement posted on his website Saturday.

Clashes erupted at the Kirti monastery in China's southwest Sichuan province after a monk set himself on fire and died last month, according to the International Campaign for Tibet, a New York-based rights group.

Police unleashed trained dogs on residents outside the monastery and beat people when they tried to prevent forces from entering the compound on Tuesday, the rights group said in a Wednesday statement.

"I am very concerned that this situation, if allowed to go on, may become explosive with catastrophic consequences," the Dalai Lama said.

He also called on the international community to persuade the Chinese leadership to exercise restraint.

The statement said the monastery, housing 2,500 monks, was completely surrounded by Chinese armed forces, who at one point prevented vital food and other supplies from entering the compound.

The United States said Thursday that it was monitoring the situation and criticised the use of force by the Chinese authorities.

The intervention of security forces was "inconsistent with internationally recognized principles of religious freedom and human rights," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

The unrest began after a monk at the monastery committed suicide on March 16 -- the third anniversary of anti-government unrest in the area.

Resentment against Chinese rule runs deep in Tibetan regions of China.

Many Tibetans are angry about what they view as increasing domination by China's majority Han ethnic group, and accuse the government of trying to dilute their culture.

Tibetan resentment spilled over into violent demonstrations in March 2008 in Tibet's capital Lhasa, which then spread to neighbouring areas. Authorities have increased security in the region since then.

China says Tibetan living standards have improved markedly in recent decades, pointing to billions of dollars spent on infrastructure and development projects.