An exile Uyghur group has slammed recent moves by the Chinese government to boost police numbers in rural areas of the troubled Xinjiang region, which has been rocked by ethnic strife in recent years between Turkic-speaking Muslims and Han Chinese migrants.
Official media reported on Monday that Xinjiang authorities would soon launch a rural police recruitment drive aimed at boosting security patrols, adding an estimated 8,000 new police officers.
The new police officers would also "crack down on illegal religious activities," the official Xinhua news agency quoted a regional government spokesman as saying.
The recruitment program would enable each village in the ethnic region to have at least one police officer, and "ensure lasting peace and stability in the region," the spokesman said.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, said his group was concerned about the new development.
"The regional authorities are taking their repressive and coercive policies one step further with the recruitment of 8,000 new police officers," Raxit said.
"They are now seeking reinforcements for their expanded control over the lives of Uyghurs."
Raxit said the increased police presence in Xinjiang was likely to increase tensions in the region, rather than defusing them.
"The arrangements made by the Chinese government in the name of so-called stability are actually a form of political terror which is being deployed against Uyghurs," he said.
"We think that the Chinese government has no sincere desire to soften its image," Raxit said.
He called on Beijing to respect the rights of Uyghurs to have a say in policy-making, and to have a fair share of the economic benefits China derives from the resource-rich region.
The move to boost police numbers is apparently linked to the forthcoming leadership transition at the 18th ruling Chinese Communist Party Congress later this year.
According to Xinhua, a high-ranking security official in Xinjiang recently "pledged to strictly guard against violent terrorism" ahead of the Congress, which has no set date, but is slated for the second half of the year.
Regional Party politics and law secretary Xiong Xuanguo called on police to amplify the crackdown on religious extremist activities, the agency said.
More than two years after ethnic riots the regional capital of Urumqi, hundreds of minority Uyghurs remain missing, casting a shadow over developments in the volatile area, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report earlier this month.
On July 5, 2009, deadly riots between mostly Muslim Uyghurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi left 200 dead and 1,700 injured, according to state media. Two years later, ethnic relations remain uneasy in the capital.
More than 1,000 Uyghurs have been jailed and several thousand “disappeared” in the aftermath of the most deadly episode of ethnic unrest in China’s recent history, according to Uyghur exile groups.
Many of Xinjiang’s estimated eight million Uyghurs chafe under the strict controls on their religion and culture that China enforces, and resent large-scale influxes of Han Chinese migrant workers and businesses to the region.
Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness despite China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.
Reported by An Pei for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.