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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Restive region of Xinjiang gives China's rulers more food for thought

March 28, 2008

The Irish Times
March 28, 2008

CHINA: Fear of a terror attack from the huge Muslim province is growing,
writes Clifford Coonan in Beijing

AS UNREST from Tibet spreads into neighbouring ethnic provinces, Beijing
is increasingly fearful of a terror attack from another restive region,
the mainly Muslim province of Xinjiang in the northwestern part of
China, and is stepping up security there.

Xinjiang is home to eight million Muslim Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group
who share linguistic and cultural bonds with central Asia and where
China gets much of its oil and gas.

This month, police said they had thwarted efforts by suspected
terrorists to crash an aircraft flying from the Xinjiang capital Urumqi
to Beijing, while a senior official said a suspected militant separatist
group in Xinjiang, raided by police on January 27th, was planning to
sabotage the Beijing Olympic Games.

Many Uighurs are unhappy with the growing economic and political power
of ethnic Han Chinese and reject what they see as cultural imperialism
from Beijing, much as Tibetan protesters feel about what is happening there.

Beijing says that separatist Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang are violent
Islamist fundamentalists trying to cut the province off from Chinese
rule. Rights groups such as Amnesty International regularly complain
about how the Uighurs are treated and accuse Beijing of using its
support for Washington's "war on terror" against al-Qaeda as an excuse
for clamping down on their activities.

The largest province in China, Xinjiang accounts for 16 per cent of its
land area and for hundreds of years the province has been a difficult
territory to rule - since the days of the "Great Game" played for
influence in the region between Britain and Russia.

This is something the Communist Party in Beijing is as keenly aware of
as the Turkish warriors and Manchu warlords who tried in previous centuries.

At least nine people were killed in 1997 during a crackdown on a
demonstration by Muslim separatists in Yining to the north. There are
periodic reports of bomb blasts in Xinjiang's cities carried out by
Muslim separatists.

The separatist Uighurs want an independent east Turkestan state in the
region that borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and central Asia.

Rebiya Kadeer, a Muslim businesswoman turned activist for Uighur rights
in Xinjiang, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. She was
jailed for five years for providing state secrets to foreigners before
her exile.

China sees the Olympic Games as its "coming out party" to showcase the
great advances the country has made within the last generation, but the
Tibet unrest and the foiled Xinjiang aircraft attack have pushed
domestic security higher on the organisers' agenda.

Xinjiang is awash with rumour. Chinese police dismissed speculation
there had been two bus explosions in Urumqi and said they had detained
those spreading the rumour.

"It's sheer nonsense and business as usual in Xinjiang," Liu Yaohua,
head of the region's Public Security Bureau, told the Xinhua news agency.

On January 2007, Chinese forces killed 18 people in a gun battle near a
training camp in the mountains of the Pamirs plateau in southern Xinjiang.

In the attempting hijacking on March 7th, the China Southern Airlines
aircraft took off from Urumqi but was forced to cut short its journey to
land in the northwestern city of Lanzhou.

The airline gave a 400,000 yuan (€36,000) cash reward to staff for
foiling the attack, which officials said was by "internationally backed
terrorists".

Groups of exiled Uighurs campaigning for an independent Xinjiang accuse
China of making up the aircraft incident to justify a crackdown on Uighurs.
© 2008 The Irish Times

Also in today's Irish Times, though without details of the Jokhang incident.
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