Deadly clashes between Han Chinese and Uyghurs broke out over the weekend in western China’s restive Xinjiang region, according to local residents and officials, who said authorities were strictly controlling information about the incident.
A local resident speaking on condition of anonymity said Saturday’s clash at the local bazaar in the town of Kargilik (in Chinese, Yecheng) in Xinjiang’s Kashgar prefecture left five people dead—three of them Uyghurs and two Han Chinese—and others wounded.
Local officials contacted by RFA could not confirm the number of those killed or injured, but said a violent incident had occurred at the bazaar and enhanced security measures had been put in place in response.
The clash came a month after Xinjiang’s worst violence in four years left 23 dead in Kashgar’s Maralbeshi (Bachu) county, and follows a February 2012 knife attack in Kargilik that killed at least a dozen people.
Local residents said the clash had broken out before noon on Saturday but could not give details about how the casualties were caused.
The owner of a restaurant in the bazaar said had he witnessed two people wounded in the incident being taken to the hospital.
“I saw two of the injured taken to the country hospital, and later heard one of them died,” he told RFA’s Uyghur Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Staff at the county hospital contacted by RFA said they had been told by officials not to disclose any information about those treated in the aftermath of the incident.
An employee at Yecheng Xianwei Hotel located near the bazaar said he heard six people had died and that the situation in the area had returned to normal by Sunday.
Officials said security measures had been stepped up in the aftermath of a violent incident in the bazaar.
Memetjan Rehim, deputy chief of the nearby police station in Yetimluqum police station said authorities had stepped up checks across Kargilik county immediately after the clashes.
“The incident occurred around 11:00 a.m. We were alerted and started conducting security checks from noon in the entire county,” he said.
A police officer from the Chasamichit police station said police officers there had not been informed “about the details of the incident” but had stepped up checks in the area.
“We have received orders for security checks and surveillance in the county bazaar,” said the police officer, who refused to give his name.
The deputy chief of Kargilik’s Wenhua Lu police station said authorities had not authorized police to talk about the incident.
"The higher authorities have did not yet decided whether to make information about this incident public, so I cannot answer your questions,” he said on Sunday.
House searches conducted
Community watch groups in the county were informed about a violent incident and ordered on Saturday to conduct house-to-house searches in their areas to look for “unknown persons,” Amine Ghopur, a community official in Kargilik township, told RFA.
She said that on Saturday afternoon she received a short report from the county government regarding a violent incident in Kargilik and ordering the searches.
"The report did not mention the details of what happened in the course of the incident. It simply said that some 'bad elements' with intentions to incite violence had caused an incident," she said.
“The report ordered us to conduct house searches looking for ‘unknown persons.’”
“Last night [Saturday night] I conducted house searches until midnight along with eight of my assistants,” she said.
Xinjiang has long been gripped by ethnic tensions between the region’s mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uyghur community and the rapidly growing Han Chinese population, with Uyghurs saying they are subjected to political control and persecution for opposing Chinese rule in the region.
Clashes between Han Chinese and Uyghurs in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi in July 5, 2009, which left officially nearly 200 dead and prompted a harsh crackdown, were the worst ethnic violence China had seen in decades.
Rights groups and experts say violence in the region is frequently blamed on separatists or extremists, with Beijing exaggerating the threat of terrorism in order to take the heat off domestic policies that cause unrest or to justify the authorities' use of force against the Uyghur minority.
Reported and translated by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.