HONG KONG—Authorities near the Silk Road city of Kashgar have detained around a dozen ethnic Uyghurs after they organized themselves to help local residents hit by huge rainstorms and massive flash flooding, overseas groups and officials said.
"We are all engaged in flood relief work," said a police officer who answered the phone at Yengisar [in Chinese, Yingjisha] county's Uchar [in Chinese, Wuqia] police station in the Kashgar region of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
He said local officials had already implemented flood prevention measures in case the floods came back.
But he declined to comment on the reported detentions of 13 Uyghurs for disturbing public order.
"I can't answer that question," the officer said.
"Can you get your information from the Internet—we are very busy here," he said.
An employee who answered the phone at the Wuqia village credit union said the flooding had been going on for three days, and was still causing disruption for local residents, some of whom had been made homeless.
"There was some very heavy rain here," she said.
"And 330 people had their homes damaged or destroyed."
"We can lend them up to a maximum of 20,000 yuan. Some people have asked for 5,000 yuan, so we have made some loans of 5,000 yuan."
According to official media, heavy flash flooding in Yengisar county caused flooding in villages No. 3, 4, 5, and 6 lasting longer than three hours in a region that had no recorded floods for at least a century, knocking out water supplies, communications, and transportation links.
A large number of houses collapsed, reports said.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said 13 Uyghur residents had been detained on public order charges after local officials said their assistance efforts had too strong a religious flavor.
"They were detained by the local public security department, and the local authorities said they were disturbing public order," Raxit said.
"The people were organizing themselves to help people out after the floods, and relaying information of the flood situation everywhere. The government said they were disturbing the peace."
He said residents had begun to organize themselves in the face of a slow response to the disaster from local officials.
Tensions in the troubled northwestern region are rising ahead of the anniversary July 5 of demonstrations in the regional capital, Urumqi, which led to deadly ethnic strife in which some 200 people died.
Local authorities gave conflicting accounts of the flooding.
A police officer interviewed in Uyghur denied that anyone had been detained, adding:
"One older man was killed, along with six or seven sheep and two cows. Four or five houses were destroyed but we put [the people] up in government tents," he said.
The Uchar village secretary also denied any detentions and said no one had been killed in the flooding.
"The flooding destroyed a few houses, but they had been built illegally, and poorly. That's why they collapsed," the Uchar secretary said.
Orders from higher up
Hu Jun, a rights activist based in Xinjiang's Changji city, said local government officials had been watching him on a 24-hour surveillance rota in recent days.
"It's nearly July 5," Hu said.
"There aren't enough people in the neighborhood committee, according to them, so orders came from higher up that they should use people from administrative departments instead."
"They are being sent to every residential community to watch people."
He said the policy had been explained to him by an official of the local foodstuffs and cereals bureau, who had been given the job of watching his movements.
The mood throughout the region was tense, but especially so in Urumqi, Hu said.
"Particularly the students in Urumqi ...They disperse them as soon as they collect in groups, and there are patrol squads with armbands everywhere," he added.
"And there are military vehicles all the way along the highway from Changji city to Urumqi," said Hu, who recently returned from a trip to the regional capital.
"It really creates an atmosphere."
A student who answered the phone at the Xinjiang Normal University students' work area said the city was currently calm, however.
"It is very safe here in Xinjiang now," the student said.
"The students at the university here are fairly, you know, united."
An employee who answered the phone at the Urumqi-based Xinjiang Daily News confirmed that there was a large security presence in the city.
"There are a lot of security personnel out on the streets," he said.
"There are still some traumatic memories [of the violence]."
Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao, in Cantonese by Hai Nan, and in Uyghur by Guljreke. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Translated from the Chinese and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Translated from the Uyghur by Dolkun Kamberi. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.