More than two million Tibetans have been resettled by the Chinese government over the last seven years, a new report by Human Rights Watch says.

Many, including hundreds of thousands of nomads, were forced into so-called “socialist villages”, the group says.

The goal of the relocation is to exert tighter political control over ethnic Tibetans, according to researchers.

China denies forced evictions. It comes amid reports that worship of the Dalai Lama may have been eased in some areas.

But the BBC was unable to confirm claims that Buddhists in China’s Tibetan areas were able to openly worship their exiled spiritual leader and that some temples were displaying portraits of him.

Closely monitored

Chinese village before/after

Images from Google Earth published by Human Rights Watch appear to show the mass destruction of existing housing and the construction of villages with uniform rows of new buildings.

“The government has started to despatch new teams of Communist Party officials to each single village of the Tibet Autonomous Region,” explained Nicholas Bequelin, Asia Researcher with Human Rights Watch.

“The new personnel stationed in these villages have been instructed to eat, live and work with the villagers and that includes monitoring their political opinions and identifying whose loyalty to the Party or the government is questionable.”

The Chinese government has consistently maintained that it is pouring billions of dollars into Tibet in order to bolster its economy and improve the Tibetans’ way of life.

However, tensions remain. In the past four years, at least 117 Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest at Chinese government rule, resulting in 90 deaths.

Many Tibetans resent the influx of Han Chinese into Tibet and the Communist Party’s restrictions on their religious freedoms.

In response, the Chinese government has tightened surveillance over the entire Tibetan plateau. In cities, the authorities appear to be keeping tabs on potential troublemakers by dividing each neighbourhood along a grid system.

The new security system is designed to closely monitor the situation at street-level to prevent a repeat of mass protests that centred in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, in March 2008.

In addition, the report says, about 300,000 nomadic herders have been relocated and settled since the early 2000s and the authorities have reportedly announced their intention to turn an additional 113,000 into sedentary dwellers by the end of 2013.