A group of 11 ethnic Uyghur men from China’s western Xinjiang region have been shot dead after crossing into neighboring Kyrgyzstan, officials in the Central Asian republic said Friday, triggering calls for a probe into the killings amid concerns they may have been refugees fleeing “repression."
Nine of them were gunned down by a special Kyrgyz border guard unit while two others were killed earlier by a local hunter who had spotted them in the mountains near the border on Thursday, Kyrgyz officials were quoted saying in reports Friday.
Acting head of the Kyrgyz border guards Raimberdi Duishenbiyev told reporters the 11 men appeared “to belong to an organization of Uyghur separatists," the Associated Press reported.
The World Uyghur Congress, a Germany-based Uyghur rights group, said it believed the men may have been refugees fleeing repression, calling for a “full, transparent, and independent” investigation into the incident.
The group voiced concerns about the emerging official narrative of the incident, saying China’s close relationship with Kyrgyzstan through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)—a regional grouping whose mission is to fight terrorism and separatism—“raises questions” about reported facts of the case.
“Kyrgyzstan remains an important conduit through which Uyghur refugees can escape the repression to which they are subjected in East Turkestan,” WUC President Rebiya Kadeer said in a statement, using another name for Xinjiang.
“It is well known that the Chinese authorities are exporting their repression abroad via the SCO to curb Uyghur activism and Uyghurs seeking refuge,” she said.
Call to work with UNHCR
The WUC said the Kyrgyzstan government and the local Bishkek office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should work together to investigate the incident.
“In a situation in which none of those from within the group survived the incident it is absolutely vital that a full, transparent, and independent investigation is undertaken to avoid politically-motivated conclusions regarding events.”
Allegations that the 11 Uyghurs were separatists “do not corroborate with the objects found upon them,” the WUC statement said, citing initial reports stating that the men were unarmed.
Kyrgyz officials said the men attacked the hunter and seized his rifle, later injuring one border guard in the skirmish before they were gunned down.
Kyrgyz border guards have informed their Chinese counterparts about the border incident, Duishenbiyev said.
Kyrgyzstan—whose people have cultural ties to Xinjiang’s 10 million mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uyghurs— is a known transit country for Uyghur refugees.
Rights groups say SCO member countries including China and Kyrgyzstan have used murky definitions of terrorism to justify the repression in their countries.
China has intensified a sweeping security crackdown against Uyghurs in recent months in Xinjiang, where according to state media at least 91 people have been killed since April—many of them Uyghurs accused by the authorities of terrorism and separatism.
Three more people died in three explosions Friday evening, in Toksu (in Chinese, Xinhe) county of Aksu prefecture, an area located at China's extreme west on its border with Kyrgyzstan, the Xinjiang government reported on its news website.
Reported by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.