HONG KONG—Chinese authorities in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang have imposed a curfew following a series of police raids near the city of Gulja (in Chinese, Yining) looking for weapons and explosives, local residents said.
One woman living in the area of Yengiyer township said a curfew had been in effect since March 30, when police detained up to 40 people in raids on a number of houses belonging to Muslim Uyghurs in the area.Suspects escape
However, an officer on duty at the Yengiyer township police station denied there was a curfew, or that any terror suspects had been detained recently.
"No, we don't have any terrorists here," he told RFA's Mandarin service.
Another resident from Almutiyar village told reporter Qiao Long that police found some explosives, but did not catch the suspects, giving rise to the curfew.
Asked if a suspect had escaped the raids on a family home in the No.5 production brigade in Almutiyar village, a local man said: "Another suspect also from the No.5 production team escaped. They are all Uyghurs. A curfew was imposed after they escaped."
He said a small cache of explosives was found at the house.
A Han Chinese resident blamed soaring commodity prices for recent unrest in the area. "Some people can’t afford to buy food. That’s why there are riots," the man said.Soaring food prices
"The current price for a bag of flour is as high as 60 to 70 yuan (U.S.$10); a bag of rice costs 70 to 80 yuan. The soaring prices should be blamed for the riots," he said.
Almutiyar village has seven production teams; the No.5 production team has a population of 10,000 people.
Under the curfew, the 100,000 residents of Almutiyar village have to have their papers inspected when leaving and entering the village, sources said.
Authorities in Yengiyer township near Gulja (in Chinese, Yining) city raided family homes belonging to Muslim Uyghurs, detaining several people, a local government official told RFA's Uyghur service last week.
The official at the Gulja municipal Communist Party propaganda department said two raids took place on March 28, one in Yengiyer village, and the other in Almutiyar village.Group raided
Police raided the homes of five Uyghur brothers in Yengiyer village, and detained 17 Uyghur youths attending a social group known as a "meshrep" in Almutiyar village, telling the group's organizers that they had engaged in "illegal activities", the official told reporter Shohret Hoshur.
Police in Gulja have acknowledged that a secret operation ordered by top officials in Xinjiang took place last month, but declined to give details.
Many Uyghurs, who twice enjoyed short-lived independence as the state of East Turkestan during the 1930s and 40s, are bitterly opposed to Beijing’s rule in Xinjiang.
Beijing blames Uyghur separatists for sporadic bombings and other violence in the Xinjiang region. But diplomats and foreign experts are skeptical. International rights groups have accused Beijing of using the U.S. “war on terror” to crack down on nonviolent supporters of Uyghur independence.
Overseas rights groups say hundreds, possibly thousands of people were killed in the Gulja unrest of February 1997, in a little-reported crackdown which was similar to the armed suppression of the 1989 student-led protests on Tiananmen Square.Businessman dies in custody
The raids came one week after several hundred ethnic Uyghurs staged protests following the death in custody of a prominent Uyghur businessman and philanthropist.
Witnesses reported protests at two locations in Khotan prefecture—in Khotan city March 23-24 and Qaraqash county March 23--with several hundred detained by the authorities.
Numerous sources said the demonstrations followed the death in custody of wealthy Uyghur jade trader and philanthropist, Mutallip Hajim, 38.
Tibetans in neighboring provinces have staged protests and riots against Chinese rule from March 15, prompting a deadly crackdown and countless arrests.
Both Tibetans and Uyghurs—two of China’s major religious and ethnic minorities—have chafed under Beijing’s rule for the last six decades, and Chinese authorities have faced persistent accusations of repression and abuse. But while exiled Uyghur leaders have voiced support for the Tibetan protesters, the Uyghur unrest appears unrelated.
China has waged a campaign over the last decade against what it says are violent separatists and Islamic extremists who aim to establish an independent state in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which shares a border with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia.
Earlier this year, Chinese authorities announced that they had foiled a plot by Uyghur terrorists targeting the Beijing Olympics. In the early 1990s, Uyghurs in Xinjiang launched large-scale riots, attacking and killing Chinese officials. Chinese authorities alleged that such acts killed 162 people and injured another 440, prompting a harsh crackdown.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Beijing took the position that Uyghur groups were connected with al-Qaeda and that one group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), was a “major component of the terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden.” The ETIM has denied that charge.Original reporting in Uyghur by Shohret Hoshur, and in Mandarin by Qiao Long and Shen Hua. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translation by Jia Yuan. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.