China Announces Amnesty For Militants Amid Calls For Policy Change

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People in Urumqi pray on May 23, 2014 for victims as police officers watch out after explosions in the Xinjiang capital left 31 people dead and 90 injured.

China's year-long "anti-terrorism" campaign announced after last week's deadly attack on a crowded market in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang is unlikely to succeed unless the peaceful demands of its mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group are also met, analysts said.

China Central Television said Monday the elite Politburo, a decision-making body of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, met under President Xi Jinping and discussed measures to counter "extremists" in Xinjiang in the wake of Thursday's explosions in the sprawling region's capital Urumqi, which killed 31 people and injured 90.

Authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have offered "lenient punishment" to anyone involved in militant groups linked to terrorist activities who surrender to the authorities within a month,  a joint statement from the regional judiciary, prosecution service and police department said at the weekend.

Anyone involved in the manufacture, trade, transport, storage or possessing guns, ammunition, flammable and combustible materials, or controlled knives will also be treated leniently if they turn themselves in within 30 days, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The statement came after Beijing announced a one-year crackdown to hunt down and punish terrorists in Xinjiang and "prevent terrorism an extremism from spreading to other regions" after accusing five suicide bombers of carrying out the Urumqi vegetable market attack.

The attackers ploughed two vehicles into the open market and hurled explosives. Many of the wounded were elderly shoppers, according to witnesses.

Xinhua said the anti-terrorism campaign will also target anyone illegally crossing borders or organizing, plotting, transporting or assisting others to cross borders.

"Those who are involved in the above activities will be given mitigated punishments if they turn themselves in within 30 days," the report said.

The government is also calling on the general public to inform authorities about suspected terrorist activities, while warning that those who protect anyone doing such things will also be pursued, it said.

Straightforward campaign wouldn't do enough

But Chinese political analysts said a straightforward security campaign wouldn't do enough to lessen ethnic tensions in the region, where Uyghurs say they are subjected to discriminatory and often violent checks and searches, restrictive religious and cultural policies, and a lack of economic opportunity.

Xia Ming, political science lecturer at the College of Staten Island in New York said the Urumqi market blasts were of a different order to previous violence in region, however.

"They involved ordinary people; they targeted innocent civilians without discrimination," Xia said. "They weren't targeted exclusively at Han Chinese."

"They were also unlike previous attacks which targeted uniformed personnel like the police or the army," he said.

"Their wider aim was to create a wider sense of fear in society, in the hope of throwing the regime into more of a crisis."

U.S.-based veteran dissident and political affairs commentator Liu Nianchun said the May 22 attacks were a form of terrorism.

"Such killing and harm of ordinary people is definitely terrorism, and of course it will incur global condemnation."

But he said the answer wasn't more control over the troubled region, but less.

"Actually, they could allow Xinjiang people their autonomy, to govern their own affairs. I think this would work out better."

Steps to calm tensions

Meanwhile, Xia called on the Chinese leadership to take careful steps to calm tensions among Uyghurs.

"Since the July 5 [ethnic riots] in Xinjiang, the Chinese government hasn't worked carefully, taking practical measures to ease tensions with [Uyghurs]," he said.

"On the contrary, many of its methods we can say have made this tension more extreme."

Exile groups have repeatedly pointed to police shootings of Uyghur suspects, as well as intrusive searches and checks based on ethnic profiling across China, as major obstacles to Beijing's attempts to govern the region, where many Uyghurs say they would prefer independence.


Rebiya Kadeer, president of the exile World Uyghur Congress, told RFA's Uyghur Service on Friday that while the violence was "not something the WUC would wish to see," that the responsibility for the bloodshed lay firmly with the Communist Party.

"The core cause of the problem is quite simple: the government ... is sacrificing one ethnic group's interests for the sake of another ethnic group's interests, suppressing one group and favoring the other," she said.

"[It] does not listen to the petitions of the victimized groups, leaving them without any legal channels to make themselves heard," Kadeer added.

She cited an incident last Tuesday in which police near Aksu opened fire on unarmed protesters angry at the detention of women and schoolgirls for wearing traditional headscarves.

Sources told RFA that at least two Uyghurs "were left dead at the scene," while more than 100 were detained during the incident.

Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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