Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang shot dead three people who reportedly attacked passersby with knives, killing five of them in an incident that sources said was the latest of several in the area.
Three people attacked crowds in a residential area of Guma (in Chinese, Pishan) county in the Silk Road region of Hotan (Hetian) on Tuesday, killing five and injuring five others, a government report said.
"At 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 14, three thugs started attacking people with knives in a residential compound in Pishan county," the Hotan government said in a brief statement on its official news website on Wednesday.
"Within one minute, police from the nearby police station had mobilized, and shot three of the thugs dead at the scene," it said.
"The incident led to ... the deaths of five people who died in spite of emergency treatment for their injuries in hospital," the statement said. "Five other injured people were successfully treated."
The report said order had been restored with no further signs of unrest.
"Investigations are ongoing," it said.
Armed police deployed
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exile group World Uyghur Congress said six Uyghurs had been arrested in connection with recent attacks, while the authorities had deployed helicopters and huge numbers of armed police in a security lockdown of the area.
"The information we are getting from both direct and indirect sources in the area is that six Uyghurs were arrested after the incident in the Guma county town," Raxit said.
"Two other Uyghur youths have also been detained on suspicion of spreading rumors after they posted news of the incident using their phones," he said.
Raxit said huge numbers of armed police had been deployed in and around Guma county amid widespread raids on Uyghur households.
"There is also an increased military presence on the national highway between Hotan and Kashgar," he said. "They are doing spot checks on Uyghurs, while warning local Han Chinese people to avoid going out if possible."
"Everyone can see the helicopters circling overhead," he said.
Raxit said the official report of the incident had likely understated the total numbers of dead and injured.
String of similar attacks
Meanwhile, a local source told RFA that the Guma incident was the latest in a string of similar attacks in the same area in recent days, including an attack in Yengisar (Yingjisha) on Feb. 12 which left two dead and three people injured.
Similar attacks had also occurred in Aksu (Akesu) and Qarghiliq (Yecheng), but without casualties, the source said.
"The official media has only reported the Pishan county incident, but there were three or four murderous attacks in Kashgar [Kashi] and Hotan in southern Xinjiang," the source said.
"These are actions against the government, demonstrating the tension between Uyghurs and Han Chinese," he said.
According to the source, the attackers are all prisoners recently released after serving jail terms in connection with ethnic violence in Xinjiang's regional capital, Urumqi, on July 5, 2009.
Local residents confirmed that the entire region is under tight security on Wednesday, with armored vehicles and armed police patrolling the streets of Guma and neighboring counties, as well as gas stations and schools.
‘Just lock your door’
An officer who answered the phone at the Hotan municipal police department on Wednesday, believing an RFA journalist to be a Han Chinese tourist, said everyone should stay in their rooms and refrain from posting online about the incident.
"Don't worry, all the hotel doors are locked, and there are lots of police inside," the officer said. "Even if you went to a police station, there would be nobody to help you because they are all so busy."
"Just lock your door, and don't go spreading rumors, or you'll feel the force of the law," the officer said. "Just do as you're told and stay in your room, and don't go talking to people or posting stuff on WeChat."
"If you do, we'll be able to trace the post, and then we can arrest you," he said.
An employee who answered the phone at a hotel in Guma county, however, said business is carrying on as usual.
"We are going to work and doing what we have to do ... There are police cars patrolling past the door the whole time, and they [the police] don't sleep," the employee said, adding that there is usually a strong police presence anyway.
"We are used to this; we don't feel particularly scared," he said.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Goh Fung for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.