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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."

Ambush in China Raises Concerns as Olympics Near

August 8, 2008

By ANDREW JACOBS
The New York Times
August 5, 2008

BEIJING -- Two men armed with knives and explosives ambushed a
military police unit in China's majority Muslim northwest on Monday.
State media reported the attackers killed 16 officers and wounded 16
others, likely making it the deadliest outburst of ethnic violence in
China since at least the early 1990s.

The assault took place 2,100 miles from Beijing, but it added to
security concerns in the capital as tens of thousands of foreign
athletes, journalists and spectators begin to arrive for the opening
of the Olympic Games on Friday.

Chinese security officials have claimed for months that extremists in
the Xinjiang region, where the dominant ethnic Uighur population is
mainly Muslim, pose a terrorist threat to the Olympics.

Many Western experts say that China has provided little information
to back up its claim that Uighur extremists have the capacity or the
intention to stage major terrorist attacks. Beijing has suppressed
ethnic Uighurs and kept Xinjiang under tight military control
primarily to prevent a challenge to Han Chinese rule in the vast
desert region that borders Central Asia, some experts say.

Even so, the brazen attack on a paramilitary police unit in Kashgar,
an ancient oasis city on the Silk Road that has been a hotbed of
unrest, followed a spate of smaller bombings or attempted bombings
elsewhere in China in recent weeks. The bombings received relatively
little attention from the Chinese and Western media, but they appear
to have rattled the Chinese leadership as the country prepares to
host a parade of dignitaries, including President Bush.

The attack also underscores the ethnic instability China faces in its
western regions. In the spring, Tibetans in the southwest erupted in
sustained riots against Chinese rule, prompting the authorities to
dispatch tens of thousands of troops and arrest hundreds of monks and
activists accused of promoting the exiled Dalai Lama or stoking
anti-Chinese sentiment, overseas Tibetan groups say.

China's official Xinhua news agency said Monday that the police had
arrested the two men responsible for the attack in Kashgar. The
agency quoted the police as saying they suspected that it was a
terrorist attack.

Even before the assault, the authorities seemed on alert for plots
against the Games. Beijing has been girded with soldiers, missile
launchers and sidewalk cameras. The heavy surveillance did not
prevent a small protest near Tiananmen Square on Monday by people who
said they had not been compensated after their homes were demolished
for a redevelopment project, but a swarm of police officers rapidly
broke it up.

Officials say they remain confident the events will take place
without incident.

"We are prepared to deal with any kind of security threat and we are
confident we will have a safe and peaceful Olympic Games," said Sun
Weide, a spokesman for the Beijing organizing committee.

Officials of the International Olympic Committee said they were also
confident that security in the capital would be more than adequate
when the Games began. "We all feel the Chinese authorities have done
everything possible to assure the safety and security of everyone
attending the Games," said Giselle Davies, a spokeswoman for the I.O.C.

According to Xinhua, two men driving a dump truck rammed it into a
brigade of border patrol police officers as they jogged outside their
barracks near the center of Kashgar, killing or wounding 10 officers.
The attackers then jumped out of the truck, stabbing officers with
knives, and then lobbed homemade bombs at the barracks, which
exploded outside the compound, Xinhua said.

Officers, part of the People's Armed Police, a paramilitary guard
force, arrested the assailants, whom they described as Uighurs, ages
28 and 33, but did not release their names. Xinhua said the arm of
one man was badly injured when an explosive device detonated in his
hand. The police later discovered 10 more such devices and what it
described as a "homemade gun" in the dump truck.

Images reportedly taken from local Kashgar television and briefly
posted on the Internet showed bodies shrouded in white sheets or on
stretchers. The attack, however, received no mention on the evening
news in Beijing.

If the details as reported by Xinhua are accurate, the attack would
be the worst eruption of ethnic violence on Chinese soil since the
early 1990s, when China blamed Muslim separatists for a spate of
violent attacks.

In recent years, China has waged an increasingly muscular battle
against those it describes as radical Muslims. The East Turkestan
Islamic Movement, a group listed as a terrorist organization by the
United States and China, is blamed for much of the violence in
Xinjiang. The attacks, as recounted by the Chinese government, often
involve bombings of police stations, buses, factories and oil pipelines.

Human rights advocates say the official accounts are often
exaggerated to justify crackdowns on Uighur advocates.

Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, an exile
group based in Germany, said that the government had been
systematically repressing the culture and religion of Xinjiang
residents, and that such policies were radicalizing a growing number
of people. "These policies are forcing more Uighurs to turn to more
militant protest," he said.

Chinese security strategists have cited groups like the East
Turkestan Islamic Movement as the greatest threat to the Olympics. At
a news conference last week, officials said a crackdown on Uighur
separatists this year had led to the arrest of 82 people who the
officials said were plotting to disrupt the Games through acts of terrorism.

Last month, the authorities executed two men and meted out heavy
sentences to 15 others who the government said were members of the
East Turkestan Islamic Movement. The men were seized during a raid on
what officials said was as a terrorist training camp. Also last
month, the police raided an apartment in Urumqi, the capital of
Xinjiang, and shot dead five men who they said were planning a "holy
war" against the region's ethnic Han population.

The official media have publicized other acts in recent months,
including what the authorities said was a thwarted attack by three
airline passengers who were planning to crash a Beijing-bound plane.

As in previous cases, the authorities presented little evidence to
back up their claims. Yitzhak Shichor, a professor of East Asian
studies at the University of Haifa in Israel who specializes in the
East Turkestan Islamic Movement, voiced doubt that the attack in
Kashgar had been an act of terrorism.

He said he thought the government was trying to continue its
vilification of the group, which, if it exists at all, does not have
the personnel or weaponry to carry out a sophisticated attack. "I am
very skeptical of this kind of information that comes only from
Chinese sources," he said.

But Li Wei, a counterterrorism expert at the China Institutes of
Contemporary International Relations, said he thought the attack bore
the hallmarks of Uighur separatists determined to grab the spotlight
when the world was focusing on China.

It is unclear whether the attack on Monday was related to a larger
plot that included several smaller bombings in parts of China,
including bus explosions in the cities of Kunming and Shanghai.

Another self-described Uighur Muslim separatist group, Turkestan
Islamic Party, released a video dated July 23 that featured a
statement by a Commander Seyfullah claiming responsibility for the
two bus explosions and making broader threats against the Olympics.

Jake Hooker and Tang Xuemei contributed research.
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