Chinese authorities in the northern region of Inner Mongolia have described the situation there as "war-like" following a huge influx of troops into the region and a security lock-in at schools, universities, and government institutions, according to a leaked official document.
The document, issued by the regional committee of the ruling Communist Party, described recent protests by thousands of ethnic Mongolians in the region's major cities as the work of "external hostile forces," although it made no mention of where those forces originated.
"Today Hohhot [the regional capital] is in a war-like state," said the document, obtained by the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC).
"Military forces have been deployed at all critical locations," it said.
The document appears to confirm both eyewitness reports from Hohhot and a recent official newspaper article about troop movements.
"Not only all schools, but also all Party and Government institutions and enterprises are sealed off," it said.
"The purpose is to isolate bad people, strike hostile elements hard, and protect the students’ personal safety."
"This is an important political matter related to maintaining the regime," it warned.
PLA infantry armies dispatched
A woman in Hohhot on business at the time of the crackdown described the scene to RFA last week as "preparations for war," with armed police in bullet-proof vests and armoured vehicles.
The overseas Chinese-language news website Boxun reported Friday that China's leaders had dispatched People's Liberation Army (PLA) Infantry Armies No. 38, No. 27, and No. 65 to Inner Mongolia.
Residents said security was still tight over the weekend, which marks the 22nd anniversary of the PLA military crackdown on student-led pro-democracy protests on Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
The No. 38 Army was the first to be sent to Beijing in 1989, but held back from entering the city. Its senior military officer, Lt. Gen. Xu Qinxian, later served a five-year jail term for disobeying orders. The 27th army was sent in later to clear the city of protesters, resulting in an unknown number of civilian deaths.
Some said the June 4 anniversary meant little to ethnic Mongolians.
"The June 4 incident has nothing to do with our Mongolian protests," SMHRIC quoted a Hohhot university researcher as saying.
"We Mongolians are trying to free ourselves from any form of Chinese control, authoritarian or democratic alike," he wrote.
"Our struggle is against a foreign occupation."
At least 40 Mongolians were detained in the wake of protests last month sparked by the death of a herder, identified as Murgen, in a standoff with mining company truck drivers over pollution caused by open-cast mines on traditional grasslands, SMHRIC said.
Some were released and later rearrested.
The authorities are now conducting door-to-door raids for those involved in the protests, asking people about their connection with foreigners, the group said in an e-mailed news release on Sunday.
Germany-based Mongolian exile Xi Haiming, whose hometown is in Shiliingol where the first protests started following the killing of Murgen, said that there is a connection with the 1989 pro-democracy movement, however.
"Around [that] time, the Mongolian students were the first to break through police barriers and take to the streets in protest," Xi said.
"We Mongolians also had a lot of debates about this at the time ... and we believed that democratization in China was a prerequisite to the solution of all other problems, including the ethnic problem."
"We took part very enthusiastically."
A further 50 Mongolian students and residents were detained during the course of week-long protests in Hohhot last month, but none of those had been released, SMHRIC said.
New wave of arrests
It quoted a teacher at the Inner Mongolia Normal University as saying that a "new wave of arrests" had begun.
"Mongolians fear that another wave of political purge is coming, because the 1968 massacre is still fresh in the memory of the Mongolians," the teacher wrote.
According to official figures, 16,222 Mongols were killed and many more tortured, maimed, and jailed between 1968 and 1970, at the height of the Cultural Revolution.
Professor Zhang Zanning, of Florida's Southeastern University, called on Beijing to engage with ethnic Mongolians.
"The government should do its best to sit down and talk, and it should improve its performance," Zhang said. "It shouldn't block such forces ... but seek to channel them instead."
Reported by Tian Yi for RFA's Mandarin service and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.