Activists warnof violence in China’s Muslim northwest


Friday, September 30, 2005

BEIJING (AP) ― Exiled activists seeking more freedom for China’s mostly-Muslim northwest warned Friday that Beijing’s hard-line control could lead to increased separatist violence, as the Communist Party prepared to mark 50 years of rule over the area.

The Xinjiang region is populated by ethnic Uighurs, who are Turkic-speaking Muslims with a language and culture distinct from the rest of China. A high-level government delegation was in Xinjiang to celebrate the 50th anniversary Saturday of its establishment as an “autonomous region” under Beijing’s control.

Activists abroad, who refer to Xinjiang as East Turkistan, said Oct. 1 should be designated a day of mourning.

“Continued hopelessness could lead to violence,” the German-based World Uyghur Congress, which uses an alternative spelling for Uighur, said in a statement.

“If the Chinese leaders do not want to turn East Turkistan into another Chechnya, then they must stop violating the basic human rights of the Uyghurs immediately.”

It called on Beijing to seek a peaceful solution through dialogue.

The stark warning reveals increasing frustration among Uighur activists, who Beijing decries as terrorists but who have found international sympathy for their plight diminishing amid the war on Islamist terror.

The congress accused Beijing of turning Xinjiang into a Chinese colony by stripping the region of its natural resources and encouraging ethnic Chinese to move in to take jobs from the 8 million Uighurs and dilute their culture.

China says it has controlled the region on and off for thousands of years, but links were loose until the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949. Communist troops occupied Xinjiang that year and a local government under Beijing’s control was set up on Oct. 1, 1955.

China doesn’t publish statistics on migration to Xinjiang, but experts say about 250,000 ethnic Chinese have moved to the region annually over recent years. Uighurs still make up the largest single group, with ethnic Chinese accounting for about 40 percent, and other ethnic groups such as Kazakhs making up the rest.

A separate rights group, the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project, accused Beijing of using the war on terror as an excuse to oppress Xinjiang.

“Beijing has deliberately linked peaceful Uyghur nationalism with ’terrorism,’ bringing about a massive crackdown on Uyghur culture and identity,” the group said in a statement.

Meanwhile, top officials planned to attend a song-and-dance pageant in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, China Central Television reported.

Luo Gan, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee in charge of law enforcement, opened the commemorations earlier this week by urging officials to crack down on terrorism and “be prepared for danger.”

The extent of separatist violence in Xinjiang is hard to measure because of China’s strict controls on information. Beijing has issued contradictory statements, saying both that the region has been stable since a rash of violence in the 1990s and that terrorism remains a threat.