Hatred 'Simmers' in Urumqi

Residents say both Uyghurs and Han Chinese feel mistreated a year after ethnic riots.

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Urumqi-Riot-Squad-305.jpg A Uyghur man walks past armed Chinese security forces in Urumqi, July 17, 2009.

HONG KONG—One year after deadly rioting left at least 200 people dead in the northwestern city of Urumqi, hatred is still simmering below the surface, with both Han Chinese and Muslim Uyghurs feeling unfairly treated, residents said.

"Some Han Chinese are saying that it's not over yet, and that only a few [Uyghurs] were executed after so many deaths," a Han Chinese resident of Urumqi surnamed Li said. 

An overseas Uyghur group meanwhile has said China has yet to bring any Han Chinese to justice for their role in the violence, which was sparked on July 5, 2009 when a peaceful Uyghur demonstration ended in clashes with police.

Li said many Han Chinese businesses are refusing to serve Uyghur customers in the city.

"There are a lot of innocent Uyghurs who didn't take part [in the violence], and no one will let them in their cabs or restaurants now. They are feeling pretty uncomfortable," he said.

"This incident wasn't the work of any individual, and yet there's no point in directing retribution at an entire ethnic group," Li said.

"Both sides think it's unfair."

A second Han Chinese resident of Urumqi agreed that many Han Chinese are still angry about the incident.

"There is a lot of hatred in people's hearts right now," he said. "How can it be resolved? If someone has killed my sister, I'm supposed to make up with him? It's not very likely."

"The hatred is dormant right now, but sooner or later it's going to explode," he said.

"This isn't just a matter for a generation. This sort of hatred lasts for several generations."

Uyghurs targeted

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said footage shot during the rioting that began July 7, two days after the Uyghur demonstrations turned violent, showed Han Chinese beating Uyghur passers-by with iron bars and wooden sticks, as armed policemen stood by and watched.

He said Uyghur businesses were also smashed and mosques burned in retaliation for the earlier rioting, which his group has said turned violent only after police fired on an unarmed, peaceful Uyghur demonstration.

Their version of events has yet to be independently verified, as the Chinese authorities imposed an information blackout on the region and pulled the plug on the Internet for several months after the riots.

Raxit said that only the Uyghurs' actions have been officially described as "rioting" by the authorities.

"The night of July 7 [during which Han Chinese rioted] hasn't been given any official description," he said.

"Uyghur police officers and security officials have told us that they see it as typical discriminatory behavior on the part of the Chinese government."

"Now, with this attitude, the government no longer trusts Uyghur police officers at all."

Lack of trust

A source close to the Urumqi municipal government said that this lack of trust in Uyghur officials and civil servants extends to every government department.

"All departments are seeing this now, and they won't let Uyghur officials go out to take care of business on their own," the source said.

"They can't not have them go because a lot of Han Chinese don't know how to speak Uyghur, but they are of the opinion that the Uyghurs can't be relied upon."

Ethnic tensions between Uyghurs and majority Han Chinese settlers have simmered for years, and Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination and oppressive religious controls.

They say ethnic discrimination has resulted in continued poverty and joblessness for Uyghurs, despite China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.

Chinese authorities blame Uyghur separatists for a series of deadly attacks in recent years and accuse one group in particular of maintaining links to the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Hai Nan. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated from the Chinese and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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