The death toll from the violence in Yechang, Xinjiang, yesterday has been raised to 20 as more details come to light about the incident. As foreign journalists have not been permitted to the area, most of the reporting relies on statements from government officials. From the Los Angeles Times:
The fighting took place in Yecheng, a Silk Road oasis town that is about 150 miles from the border with Pakistan. Although details are only slowly emerging, and even then in a contradictory fashion, it appears that police might have been the target.
“Nine terrorists suddenly ran up to innocent people and began stabbing them, which resulted in 13 deaths and many injuries,” reported Tianshannet, a website run by the local government. “Local policemen acted immediately, arrested two and shot seven violent terrorists on the spot.”
The attack took place on Xinfu Road, a busy thoroughfare near the county seat.
The death toll is the highest since a spate of riots last summer in Kasghar and Hotan, two larger cities to the north and south, respectively, of Yecheng.
Al Jazeera has further details on the attackers and victims:
The regional government did not identify any of the attackers or give their ethnicity. Nor did it identify the ethnicity of their victims.
However, on Wednesday a local police officer, who gave only his surname Tuo, told the AFP news agency: “At around …. 6:00pm [local time; 10:00 GMT] around a dozen rioters carrying axes appeared in the market, in an area that is mostly populated by Han people.
“Most of the victims were Han people, but some were Uighurs.”
The vast region, which borders Pakistan and Afghanistan, is home to around nine million Uighurs who complain of oppression under Chinese rule. The number of Han, China’s dominant ethnic group, living in the region has increased dramatically over the last decade.
Exiled Uighur activists say that the violence was sparked by escalating tensions as police crack down on Uighur residents in the area. From the LA Times report:
Dilxadi Rexiti, a spokesman in Sweden for the World Uighur Congress, an exile group, said that seven of those killed were police officers. He said there had been tensions between the police and local Uighurs because of a 100-day campaign to round up criminals that started in late December.
“The police were given quotas and got awards for arresting people. They were arresting Uighurs for no reason and that was aggravating the tensions,” Rexiti said.
Roads around Yecheng were patrolled with checkpoints and more than 80 Uighur men were reported to have been arrested.