Uyghur Students Sent Home

Urumqi residents say 'volunteers' are patrolling the city ahead of a grim anniversary.

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Troops-in-Urumqi-4-305.jpg Armed police move into Urumqi, July 8, 2009.
RFA Cantonese/Hailan

HONG KONG—Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang, home to the Uyghur ethnic group, are sending Uyghur students from outlying areas back from the regional capital before the anniversary of deadly ethnic clashes.

"That's correct," said an official who answered the phone at the Urumqi municipal education department, when asked if the government was currently arranging transport for students to return to their hometowns.

"It's being organized by the [Xinjiang Uyghur] Autonomous Region education department," the official said. "They would know about it."

Overseas Uyghur groups cited an expanded police presence in Uyghur neighborhoods in Urumqi since early June, ahead of the anniversary of deadly ethnic violence in the regional capital.

Those clashes were sparked by a Uyghur demonstration July 5 to call for an investigation into Uyghur deaths in southern China.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said the authorities have been sending Uyghur students and even businessmen back to their hometowns ahead of the anniversary.

"The Chinese government is setting things up now, and it's forcing students to turn into informants for the government," Raxit said.

"Colleges have been told to watch each other, teachers have been told to watch the students, and students are watching other students. Everyone is watching everyone for any expression of discontent or angry mood," he said.

Raxit said there has also been a huge increase in uniformed personnel at all the entry and exit points in Urumqi.

"This is because the government is afraid that the relatives of those who died will try to enter Urumqi from the south and north of the region for the anniversary on July 5 to complain to the government and demand justice."

Police patrols

A Han Chinese resident of Urumqi surnamed Li said he is unaware of a police buildup in Uyghur neighborhoods of the city, though patrol cars are out on the streets.

"The police they brought in from elsewhere in China all left a while ago," Li said.

But he said that local residents are being organized at the community and neighborhood committee levels into special police units who then patrol the streets.

"It's being organized by the neighborhood committee. They have night patrols as well," Li said.

"Each residential area will have a patrol of at least seven or eight people. This is mostly for prevention, to make the Uyghurs scared, and the Han Chinese as well," he said.

"There are patrols in the Uyghur residential areas as well. Wherever there is a residential community, there'll be a patrol," he added.

Local media said police are also moving to clear the streets of the homeless and migrants from other areas of China and the region.

They are also moving to "clean up" privately owned small bars, Internet cafes, small factories, and hair salons, it said.

They are looking for persons without temporary residence permits, persons whose permits have expired, and missing persons to register them on the spot, the Xinjiang Pingan news Web site reported.

Call for new policies

Beijing-based Uyghur economist Ilham Tohti called on Beijing to reconsider how its policies in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), instead of conferring true autonomy on Xinjiang, have left Uyghurs the biggest losers after years of rapid economic growth.

"All the big government contracts there, including local construction, resources, mining, and power projects have been monopolized by migrants from China," Tohti said.

"Most investors make for the region and buy land. The local governments enforce the sale of the land in the face of opposition by Uyghurs to the developer in order to suit the policies of Beijing," he said.

He said that rapid migration of Han Chinese to Xinjiang, which he estimated at several thousand arrivals every week, has turned the Uyghurs into a minority in their own, resource-rich land.

"Beijing should face up to the fact that its own policies are creating poverty in the region."

"[Xinjiang] wasn't poor to begin with," Tohti said.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Hai Nan and in Mandarin by Tang Qiwei. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated from the Chinese and written in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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