Beijing (dpa) – Ethnic violence and a clash with police left at least 12 people dead in a restive area of China’s far western region of Xinjiang, reports said on Wednesday.
State media said “a few rioters” killed at least 10 people and injured others on Tuesday evening in Yecheng county town, known as Kargilik in Uighur, in an ethnically divided area of southern Xinjiang.
“Witnesses said that the violent mob chopped the victims on Xingfu Street at about 6 pm in Yecheng county,” the official Xinhua news agency said.
Police shot dead at least two of the attackers and were searching for others, the agency said.
US-based Radio Free Asia said it received an email from an anonymous Uighur witness who said the violence was “triggered by an insult thrown at a Uighur youth by three Han Chinese men” at a market in Yecheng.
It quoted the unconfirmed report as saying a group of Uighur youths aged around 18 years old attacked and killed the three Chinese men.
Paramilitary police later arrived and killed 12 Uighurs, the broadcaster quoted the email as saying.
The Global Times newspaper, part of the Communist Party’s People’s Daily group, quoted a local government statement as saying “violent terrorists” were behind the initial attack, but it gave no details to support the claim.
“In the absence of compelling evidence, international observers should be extremely careful when hearing Chinese claims about ‘rioters’ and ‘terrorists,’” Alim Seytoff, president of the Uighur American Association, said.
“Harsh security measures and a heavy police presence in the region have created a climate of fear under which no one dares to speak the truth,” Seytoff said.
Yecheng is on the ancient Southern Silk Road south of the Taklamakan desert, in Xinjiang’s poorest and most volatile area.
The Global Times quoted Turgunjan Tursun of the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences as saying Yecheng had witnessed more violence than other regions of Xinjiang in recent years and was seen as a “key region for maintaining stability.”
“Yecheng is relatively close to the border (with Pakistan and other nations), and is a secluded and remote region,” Tursun said. “It is a quite a sensitive region in geopolitics.”
Yecheng is some 200 kilometers east of China’s westernmost city, Kashgar, where at least 19 people died in two incidents involving ethnic violence and shootings by police in August.
The regional capital, Urumqi, and other areas of Xinjiang have remained tense since protests by Uighurs escalated into rioting that left about 200 people dead and 1,700 injured in Urumqi in July 2009.
Uighurs make up about 40 percent of Xinjiang’s population of 20 million.