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Politics

More than 1,000 violent clashes in restive Xinjiang this year

Retired armed police tells Hong Kong rights group about recent events

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Border police take part in an anti-terrorism drill near Baketu border in Tacheng, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in China.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- More than 1,000 "violent terrorist incidents" took place this year in Xinjiang, a restive northwestern territory of China, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy. The center said on Friday that over 150 of those cases happened in the westernmost Kashgar district alone, but they are not reported even by local media.

The contents of the notice issued by the agency were gleaned from an interview with a recently retired member of the riot squad of the armed police. This ex-police told the Hong Kong human rights group that there are now 30,000 members in the armed police force stationed in Xinjiang for an extensive period of time, dedicated to dealing with violent terrorist cases.

However, Beijing's definition of "terrorism" covers acts of protest and rebellion by minority groups. Most of these incidents in Xinjiang are understood to be not necessarily premeditated acts of terror, are usually rooted in religion and have sometimes spiraled out of hand into armed clashes.

The Chinese government usually blames Islamist militants and denies any form of repression in Xinjiang. The ethnic majority of Xinjiang, which literally means "new boundary" in Chinese, has historically not been Han Chinese, though major cities are now heavily inhabited by them through a continuous influx of migrants since 1949.

The territory is designated by Beijing as an "autonomous region" -- Beijing has the same arrangement with Tibet -- of Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighurs. But overseas support groups are highly skeptical of its "autonomy" and the people's rights to exercise their own religious, linguistic, and cultural practices.

The retired officer interviewed by the Hong Kong group confirmed a recent report by mainland media that a young platoon leader of the Xinjiang armed police, Zhao He, had dealt with over 20 violent incidents in the last year or so.

The retired officer, however, pointed out that one of the cases mentioned in the article that took place "early summer in 2015" actually took place on Jun. 22 in Kashgar, and it was a not preplanned violent terrorist plot as depicted in the article. It was a protest that spiraled into a conflict, and ended up with 19 people dead, including two officers, two ordinary citizens, and 15 so-called "terrorists." This incident, according to the retired officer, was not reported by the media until Zhao referred to it in his interview.

Xinjiang is usually closed off to foreign media. It is difficult to cover events there -- let alone clashes with the police -- and to verify occasionally reported incidents by the official media.

The most recent clash in Xinjiang was reported on Wednesday, when the official Xinjiang government news website, Tianshanwang, put up a brief story saying that a group of attackers drove a vehicle into a local government building in Karakax county in southern Xinjiang. A handmade explosive device killed one person and injured three, while all four of the "terrorists" were shot dead on site, based on the official account.

According to Reuters, Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the exiled group the World Uyghur Congress, said in an emailed statement expressing serious doubt of the official version of the case. "I strongly doubt the casualty toll and reason for the incident from official reports, which lack transparency," he said.

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