Oct 11, 2006

East Turkestan: Nobel Nomination Highlights Uyghur Plight

Rebiya Kadeer expressed satisfaction that her nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize had focused global attention on her people's struggle against Chinese oppression

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ethnic Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer expressed satisfaction on Friday that her nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize had focused global attention on her people's struggle against Chinese oppression and she denied any link to terrorism.

"I'm not a terrorist," Kadeer, 60, said in an interview with Reuters television. "The Chinese government knows that, the international community knows that. And I am opposed to terrorism in all shapes and forms, whether it's being conducted by Chinese, by Uighur, by any person."

The Chinese government has accused the mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic Uighurs in northwestern Xinjiang of using violence to agitate for an independent East Turkestan state. Ethnic Uighurs captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.

Kadeer spent five years in prison in China before going into exile last year. Beijing, in an angry denunciation of her Nobel nomination, charged that she had been involved in "sabotaging peace and stability of the Chinese society." Three of her children were detained by Chinese authorities in May.

"Today the Chinese government has used the charge of terrorism to persecute and eliminate the Uighur people," Kadeer said through a translator. "All the Chinese charges are false. The international community will soon learn that. And I also believe that I have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because I am not a terrorist, because I am not violent."

Beijing incorporated the mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uighur areas into China in 1949 and has supported large-scale Chinese migration into the region while engaging in a campaign of religious and cultural repression, a Human Rights Watch report last year said.

Kadeer, the president of the Uighur American Association, won the Rafto Prize for human rights in Norway in 2004 and is seen as a leading contender for the Nobel, which will be announced in Oslo, Norway, on October 13.

Kadeer said she believed the Uighurs held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo would be ultimately be released if they had not been involved in violence. She said five Uighurs had been released and relocated to Albania.

"If those Uighurs were still in Pakistan or Afghanistan, they would have been sent back to China and even executed," she said. "All the Uighurs who were extradited to China in the past were executed. Now they are in U.S. hands. Although they do not have freedom, they are alive and safe."