Aug 06, 2008

East Turkestan: China's Uighurs Wary, Worried After Attack

Sample ImageAfter attacks on 4 August 2008, the Uyghur people are afraid of increased repression by the PRC.


Below is an article published by Washington Post :

Fear and caution pervaded the warren of mud-brick homes and shops of this northwestern city's ethnic Uighur neighborhood Tuesday [5 August 2008], a day after an attack on a paramilitary police unit that killed 16 officers. Residents said they feared they would be blamed because the two assailants arrested at the scene were identified by police as Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority already subject to strict security measures.

Black-clad police officers carrying short clubs patrolled the Uighur neighborhood, entering several houses to check occupants' names against a government list of registered residents. Police presence at highway checkpoints and throughout the city was beefed up.

"Everyone is so scared," one woman said. "They don't want to open their mouths."

Local officials labeled the attack a terrorist act, timed to occur just ahead of the opening of the Summer Olympics in Beijing, 2,000 miles to the east. Shi Dagang, Kashgar's Communist Party secretary, said at a news conference that the two men had left wills saying that defending their religion was more precious than life and that they would launch a holy war against the Chinese.

Exile groups say hundreds of Uighurs have been detained in recent months while thousands of paramilitary forces have been dispatched to the Xinjiang region in response to what local officials have said are terrorist threats from Uighurs. Some foreign experts say China has exaggerated the threat to justify its crackdown on Uighur dissent.

No Uighur interviewed would agree to be quoted by name, including those who expressed gratitude toward the Chinese and no sympathy with those pressing for independence.

A devout Muslim who prays five times a day, the man recalled that when he was in school, his Chinese teachers refused to let him go to the mosque. "The teachers told us we had no time to pray," he said. "We had to concentrate on our examinations."

Tensions between Uighurs and the Chinese have existed for centuries in Kashgar, once an oasis on the fabled Silk Road. A series of bombings in the region in the 1990s sparked a crackdown by Chinese security forces. Although tensions continued to simmer, there had been little violence here for a decade, until recently.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, China pushed successfully to have a separatist group called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement recognized internationally as a terrorist organization. Since then, the government has played up the threat posed by the group, including U.S. assertions that it is linked to al-Qaeda. Chinese officials said the group poses the single largest threat to security at the Olympics.

Others say most of the violence in Xinjiang, including bus bombings in the 1990s, was small-scale and localized, which would not indicate a large, well-funded group.


Millward [a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service] said the problem in Xinjiang is a civil rights problem, with Uighurs feeling discriminated against in terms of job opportunities and government resources, which they say flow more fully to Han Chinese.


China has poured billions of dollars' worth of development funding into [Xinjiang]. Kashgar is, indeed, developing quickly, but roughly along two separate axes. The Uighur area radiates out from the Id Kah mosque, built in 1460, and into the old city area. Women in head scarves and men in knitted prayer caps or square traditional hats crowd the streets. Donkeys pulling carts full of watermelons and onions fight with cars, motorcycles and bicycles on narrow lanes.

The Chinese area stretches out from the railway station, built in 1999. White-tiled stores typical of many provincial Chinese cities line a multi-lane thoroughfare called People's Road. The road passes a 59-foot-tall statue of Mao Zedong across from a plaza that resembles Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

A nearby theater that used to stage traditional Uighur dance and music performances is under renovation, soon to be reopened as a hotel. "Not enough people wanted to see it, so they couldn't make any money," one man explained.