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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Uighurs 'like Tibetans, but without a voice'

June 16, 2009

By Ross Bray for Australia Network

ABC Online

June 16, 2009



The 14 Chinese Uighurs seeking a home after their detention at Guantanamo Bay come from a province with a similar story to that of Tibet, but one without a powerful voice on human rights.


The Uighurs were cleared of terrorism by the United States five years ago; they remain in Cuba while the US considers an offer by the Pacific republic of Palau to take them for resettlement.


Their land - now Xinjiang-Uighur, an autonomous province in central Asia - was annexed in 1949 by China, which seeks the return of the former Guantanamo detainees.


Australian Uighur Association secretary Mamtimin Ala says they face execution if they are repatriated.


He says his people are vastly different from the Chinese "in terms of culture, language, history and most importantly religion".


Professor Terry Narramore, who teaches Chinese politics at the University Of Tasmania, says they Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking people, "broadly Islamic, Muslim - the majority [are] not known as radically Islamic, although there are possibly small groups committed to a radical independence movement".


He says they are certainly not the terrorists they have been branded as by Chinese authorities.


In Xinjiang-Uighur, repression is such that it is "very dangerous to even discuss separatism of any kind," Professor Narramore said.


Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Chinese "have tended to tar the separatist movement with the terrorists label".


Mr Ala says three of those initially detained by the US in Pakistan had been training for homeland independence.


They were identified with the help of "bounty hunters" who got $US 5,000 ($6,300) each for the whole group.


Five of the Uighurs have now been resettled in Albania.


Professor Narramore says while the Tibetans have a strong voice outside China in the form of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, no one is speaking up for the Uighurs.

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