Muslim Separatists Blamed For Blasts In China's Far Western Xinjian Region
By Stephanie Ho
10 August 2008
Suspected Muslim separatists armed with homemade grenades attacked a government office complex in far west China early Sunday. Eleven people were killed, 10 of them attackers, according to the official news agency, and two other attackers were captured. The renewed violence comes two days into the Olympic games in Beijing. Stephanie Ho has more on the story.
Security has been tightened in Kuqa, following several blasts there in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday morning. The town is 3,000 kilometers west of Beijing.
The state-run Xinhua news agency says the attackers drove a taxi to the local public security office and other sites and threw homemade explosives.
China says the perpetrators are militants seeking an independent East Turkestan homeland for Muslim Uighurs in the Xinjiang region.
The Beijing Olympic organizing committee's Wang Wei repeated this accusation in comments to reporters.
"The attacks by Eastern Turkestan terrorists have never stopped in the Xinjiang region," said Wang Wei. "The very purpose of their attacks is all about separating the region from China, and such a behavior would not be tolerated by any country in the world."
At the same time, Wang says he believes the attackers are taking advantage of the world's attention on China because of the Olympics.
"Of course, I imagine they want to leverage the platform of the Olympic games to magnify their impact," he said. "I believe their very purpose of doing all this is about separation."
Sunday's attack in Kuqa follows a similar incident in the Xinjiang city of Kashgar last week that left 16 policemen dead. It also follows an overall tightening of security in Xinjiang because of Chinese fears of simmering separatist sentiment.
Human rights groups say China is exaggerating the threat as an excuse to crackdown harder on Uighurs.
Dru Gladney, president of Pomona College's Pacific Basin Institute, says it is hard to say whether the attacks were coordinated. At the same time, he points out that although the attackers had prepared, they did not have high-tech weapons.
"There were bombs that were either produced or stockpiled, and there were guns involved," said Dru Gladney. "But that's still pretty low-level. We're not looking at IED's, buried bombs set off by cell phones, as we've seen in Afghanistan and Iraq."
Gladney says the attacks are not a threat to the Olympics because they happened very far away.
He adds that at this point, there does not seem to be any danger to the broader civilian population in Xinjiang. He notes that the attacks have been specifically targeted at government facilities, and not at public infrastructure, such as railroads, buses, and airplanes.
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