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Global Times

Border patrol officers keep Xinjiang secure

Global Times

By Liu Xin and Fan Lingzhi in Aksu, Xinjiang Source:Global Times Published: 2019/4/29 22:28:40

Farmers and herdsmen have been deployed as civilian border guards in Aksu Prefecture, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to work with local police officers to patrol border areas to stop any suspected terrorists from either leaving or sneaking into Chinese territory.

Aksu shares a 263.8 kilometers of border with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and the total area designated as border area measures 16,700 square kilometers, according to a release from the publicity department of Aksu Prefecture.

Located in the southern part of Xinjiang, Aksu has long been the frontline in the fight against terrorism and extremism.

"Aksu has prioritized safeguarding the stability of border areas… and has formed a system that relies on people and technology," reads the release.

Local line of defense

Organizing local herdsmen and farmers to act as border guards is one strategy to stop any illegal cross-border incidents as these local people are familiar with the environment in the area, officials from the department on border security in Aksu said.

Tuohuti Tilaixi, 54, from the Kirgiz ethnic group in Yamansu village of Wushi county is a third generation border guard in his family.

Every day, he walks more than 30 kilometers along China's border with Kyrgyzstan to make sure no suspicious person has been there. He usually takes a nan bread and water for lunch. In winter, when the snow is too heavy to walk, Tuohuti patrols on horseback.

"My father taught me what I should pay attention to during patrol - to observe suspicious footprints on the ground, especially in winter, and to talk to strangers and listen to their accents," Tuohuti said.

Such long walks and horse rides horses have made Tuohuti's hands and feet swell. The wind and sunshine in the mountains that are 2,000 meters above sea level have weathered his wrinkled face.

He began this life when he was 19, following in his father and grandfather's footsteps.

In 1962, Tuohuti's grandfather helped local police stop a man who tried to cross the border to Kyrghyzstan. As a teenager, Tuohuti's father followed his father to herd sheep in the mountainous border area and helped local police stop those who wanted to escape or steal into China's Xinjiang.

By the end of 1985, his grandfather had retired. His father stopped patrolling one year before he passed away.

Tuohuti says he wants to patrol the area until his last breath. "I was born and grew up in the border lands. It is my responsibility to safeguard it. As long as I stick to my duties, the area will be safe, and so will the country," he said.

Tuohuti's son and daughter-in-law have taken on the family tradition and now work as the fourth generation of border guards in the family.

Like Tuohuti, there are several thousand border guards in Wushi and Wensu counties in Aksu prefecture. Most are farmers and herdsmen from the Uyghur and Kirgiz ethnic groups. Wushi and Wensu share 137.2 kilometers and 126.6 kilometers of border with China's neighboring countries.

Border guards usually work in three shifts - one shift for the usual patrol, one to train and one to rest. The training includes China's border policies, relevant laws and regulations, information collecting and the procedures after they find suspects, Shu Yabang, an official from the border security department in Wensu county, told the Global Times.

Border guards reached by the Global Times in Wensu and Wushi are all very cautious and have a strong sense of confidentiality, especially when asked about details of their daily work.

"If we could not shut up, and we told people details about the mountain passes to neighboring countries or neglect suspicious situations we spot, how could we ensure border security?" Tuohuti asked.

Shu said that every border guard is equipped with a telescope, an electric baton and a cellphone. Those who patrol mountain areas are given subsidies to buy a motorcycle or a horse.

If border guards spot suspicious people or activities, they are suggested to talk or follow them and report the situation to the local border security station.

"Protecting their safety is the priority," Shu said.

Border guards have been given a monthly subsidy since 2004 and the money has increased from 600 yuan to at least 2,000 ($297) yuan a month to improve their living situation.

Local governments in Wensu and Wushi have also built houses in the border area for border guards. Staples such as rice, flour, cooking oil and water are delivered to the houses regularly. Coal is offered for heating, Shu said.

"When my grandfather patrolled the border area, he lived in a partly underground cave at night, and he had nothing but damp firewood to burn to warm himself," Tuohuti said, noting that his life as a border guard has greatly improved.

Thanks to the work of the border guards, border security departments in Aksu have seized several suspected terrorists who tried to escape or get into China's territory through the four mountain passes to Kyrghyzstan since 1959, Wang Fuli, a police officer from Ying'ate border police station in Wushi county, told the Global Times.

Solid border wall

Aside from the border guards, police officers and auxiliary police officers in border police stations form another line of defense to safeguard border security in Northwest China.

Border soldiers and officers in Xinjiang have become members of the frontier police assigned to entry-and-exit check stations. These soldiers, who used to belong to the Xinjiang Public Security Frontier Corps, became police officers of the region's general exit-and-entry frontier inspection station in January, China News Service reported.

The change is part of a reform announced by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in March 2018.

Alikam Aniwar, 35, now works in Pochengzi border police station in Bozidun village in Wensu county.

The station is right at a vital communication point of two branches of a main road - one heads to the China-Kazakhstan border and the other to Xiate pass, which connects Wensu county in Aksu in southern Xinjiang and Zhaosu county in northern Xinjiang's Ili Kazak autonomous prefecture. Xiate pass is the shortest route between northern and southern Xinjiang.

Checking the passing vehicles and people are important duties of Alikam and his colleagues. Other duties include regular drills, border patrols and dealing with tourist emergencies.

Serving in the army since 2006 and working in the frontline on safeguarding border security for years, Alikam has dealt with several cases of terrorists who wanted to escape or sneak into the territory.

In January 2012, Alikam and his colleagues received reports from civil border guards about five strangers who appeared in the mountains carrying long knives.

Since most police officers were away for the Spring Festival holidays, Alikam, accompanied by seven other officers, went to check out the situation.

They fired blank shots to warn the suspects, after which there was a confrontation. With the help of 20 officers who came to reinforce them, they seized the group.

"They had several bags of eggs and nan bread. They finally confessed that they had taken part in the terror attacks in Urumqi on July 5, 2009. They came here and wanted to illegally cross the border and go to Afghanistan and Syria. They wanted to plan 'something big' when they returned to Xinjiang," Alikam said.

Illegal cross-border incidents are rare these days as Xinjiang's regional government has strengthened efforts on border security. However, the workload for security stations in border areas has not decreased.

Gu Dongxin, a 27-year-old police officer who came to work in Pochengzi border security station in January, told the Global Times that he usually drives with two to three police officers to check several security points along the border. The furthest one is 4,000 meters above sea level.

"The sand road is bumpy with many cliffs in the mountains. I still need to patrol with a senior police officer because I'm not very familiar with the situation in the area," Gu told the Global Times.

Aside from the weekly checks on security points, Gu and his colleagues also need to join a monthly large-scale check on the whole border area with civilian border guards and staff from border security departments, especially in sparsely populated areas.

Despite the hard work of the police officers and hundreds of civilian border guards, they are still shorthanded, Wang Fuli from Ying'ate border police station said.

Take Ying'ate border police station as an example. Ying'ate border police station is responsible for safeguarding a large border area with some mountain passes connecting adjacent countries, Wang said.

To ensure no terrorist escapes from or enters into Chinese territory, the border police station has deployed electronic radar monitoring system in key areas, which can help trace quickly moving targets and send back alarm signals, Wang said.

Ying'ate police station also uses patrol dogs.

"Dogs have better noses than people and they sometimes are more alert than us. We also encourage five to seven civilian border guards as a group to raise a dog, which protects them and their sheep from wolves," Alimujiang Abulaiti, a police officer from Ying'ate station, told the Global Times.

He noted that in one night in February, before a civilian border guard was aware of the situation, his dog stopped several drunken men who tried to cross the warning line.

Dedicated to the job

No issue is too small when it concerns border security - the sentiment was the same from almost every police officer reached by the Global Times. While dedicating themselves to serving the motherland, many of them are unable to fulfill their family duties by being a good spouse or a responsible parent.

On a message board at Ying'ate border police station, a police officer wrote that he wishes to bring his fiancée to Xinjiang and have their own home. Another wrote that he "wishes the best and good health to my family."

The Pochengzi station in Wensu where Gu lives is surrounded by mountains and all the officers work and live in the same three-story building.

It takes at least two hours to get to the county town. But Gu, who was born in Meizhou, South China's Guangdong Province and had served in the army in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region for eight years, does not think life is boring.

"Before applying for the job here, I have prepared myself mentally. I used to learn about violent terrorist attacks in Xinjiang and I really wanted to make my own contribution to change the situation," Gu said.

Gu noted that his parents supported his decision.

However, for Alikam from the Ying'ate station, who has been married for 10 years, it is not easy to balance life and work.

"I have four to five days as holidays a month and that's when I can go back home to meet with my wife and two children. But sometimes, when we have to deal with some urgent situations, there's no time to see them," Alikam said.

His wife complained when they were first married as the burden of taking care of their parents and children mostly fell on her.

But she gradually understood Alikam and supported his work to keep where the family and other people live safe and sound.

For Alimujiang, safeguarding the border area is not only to serve the country. It means more.

A soldier, who taught Alimujiang almost everything when he first joined the army, was killed when two terrorists drove an explosive-laden car into a group of soldiers in Kashi in August 2008.

Sixteen people died and 16 were injured in the incident, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

"He was more like a teacher or parent to me. I didn't even have the chance to share the happiness of being enrolled in the police academy with him," he said with tears in his eyes.

"Some terrorists have destroyed the image of our people and only by removing them can we experience better development. It is every Chinese person's responsibility to safeguard the country, no matter which ethnic group he or she is from," Alimujiang said.

He wants his son to be a soldier in the future to make his contribution to the country.

Thanks to the contributions of civilian border guards and police officers, China's Northwest border line has remained safe with few terrorists succeeding in illegally crossing it in recent years, which has contributed to the country's and the world's anti-terrorist efforts, experts said.

"One important characteristic of global terrorist activities now is that domestic and overseas terrorists conspire and conduct acts of terror together. Terrorists who have returned after training with international terror groups pose a greater threat to a country's security, especially after the Islamic State has been scattered," Li Wei, a Beijing-based anti-terrorism expert, told the Global Times on Sunday.

Strengthening the security along the border in Northwest China's Xinjiang not only prevents the infiltration of terrorism and the return of terrorists, it also secures domestic stability and contributes to Central Asia as well as the global anti-terror efforts, Li told the Global Times.

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