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Terrorist Bombings Averted in Xinjiang
Uighur separatist movement still alive in predominantly Muslim region
Ronald Schaefer (rs050474)     Print Article 
Published 2006-09-04 10:41 (KST)   

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[Letter to the Editor] East Turkistan Terror Overstated


When most people think of terrorist bombings by Muslim separatists, the predominantly atheist country of China will usually not come to mind. Unbeknownst to many, Xinjiang province, one of China's most remote provinces in its northwestern corner, is home to a significant minority of Muslim people, most of them Uighurs. According to the latest estimates, around 8 million of the 19 million people in Xinjiang are of Uighur descent.

A few days ago, a Chinese police raid uncovered large numbers of explosives, apparently meant for the bombing of oilfields, power plants, and highways. No information was revealed as to how many people were arrested. Since 1990, more than 41 metric tons of explosives, 6,540 grenades and 4.15 metric tons of raw materials had been confiscated in the region.

The latest successful attacks by the Muslim separatists were committed in 2004, when a rail line and a police barrack were bombed. Some of the terrorists were apparently trained by the Al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden and staged their first bombings in the 1980s.

The year 1997 saw a series of riots and bombings in several places across China. On Feb, 5-6 1997, a pro-independence rally in Yining turned into a riot, killing at least 10 people and injuring 140. On Feb. 25 that year, three homemade bombs exploded in public buses within minutes of each other in Urumqi (Xinjiang's capital). The attack was timed to coincide with Deng Xiaoping's funeral in Beijing. Nine people were killed and 74 were injured, most of them students returning home from school.

Only one week later came another bus bombing in the middle of Beijing's busiest shopping district, an attack for which so far no terrorist organization has claimed responsibility. The Chinese government believes that 200 attacks between 1990 and 2001 can be attributed to the activities of Uighur separatists. Altogether, 440 people were injured and 162 people lost their lives.

The aim of these separatists is to establish an independent Muslim state called East Turkestan. Since Sep. 11 2001, anyone who is fighting for such an independent state will be labeled as a terrorist by the Chinese authorities.

Already three times in its history, the region achieved some sort of autonomy from Chinese control. What is now Xinjiang was first annexed by the Qing emperors in 1759. A local chieftain named Yakub Beg headed an uprising in 1865 and even managed to secure diplomatic recognition from Tsarist Russia and the Great Britain for a short time.

From 1931 to 1934, the First East Turkestan Republic or Turkish Islamic Republic of East Turkestan was centered around the city of Kashgar, and the years 1944 to 1949 saw the coming of the Second East Turkestan Republic. The foiled bomb plots seem to prove that the East Turkestan Independence Movement is still alive and kicking. Let's hope that the Chinese authorities will bring this movement under control in a just way, without alienating the peaceful Uighur majority.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronald Schaefer

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