China has blamed organised terrorists for a clash that left two police and 14 suspects dead in China’s far western region of Xinjiang, but a Uighur exile group reports “indiscriminate shooting” of “demonstrators” by police.
Following the clash late on Sunday, police in Xinjiang’s Shufu county detained six suspected members of a 20-strong group that began planning terrorist activities in August, the regional government’s Tianshan Net website reported.
According to a preliminary police investigation, the incident was an “organised, premeditated, violent terrorist attack”, the report said, saying the group was led by Hasan Ismail, an ethnic Uighur according to his name.
The group promoted religious extremism and made explosives and firearms for use in terrorist attacks, the government’s Xinhua news agency quoted a Xinjiang police official as saying.
The police were attacked with knives and explosive devices as they were searching for Hasan Ismail in Sayi Bage, or Saybad, village, the reports said.
Some Uighur campaigners said police had broken into a house where members of the ethnic minority were gathering, and opened fire first.
The Munich-based World Uighur Congress said it was “able to ascertain from sources on the ground that two of the demonstrators were teenagers, who were killed due to indiscriminate shooting by the security forces”.
The group said it had “not uncovered the reasons for which the demonstrators were protesting”.
US-based Radio Free Asia quoted Uighur villagers as saying by telephone that several members of one family and a local police chief were believed to be among the dead.
Shufu county is in Xinjiang’s westernmost district of Kashgar near China’s borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan and several Central Asian nations, about 3000 kilometres from Beijing.
State media have reported several deadly clashes in recent months between police and ethnic Uighurs, a mainly Muslim group who make up around 8 million of Xinjiang’s 21.8 million people.
Meanwhile China’s state-run media on Tuesday called for “ethnic healing” in the restive region.
The unusually-conciliatory editorial in the Global Times newspaper urged authorities to encourage travel to the region and to recruit more Uighur police.
Measures should also be taken to ensure that Uighurs “are made to believe that they are trusted members of the Chinese populace”, said the newspaper, which is close to China’s ruling Communist Party and often takes a hardline stance.
“Winning the hearts of the public in sensitive areas has decisive significance,” the paper wrote, adding that “the whole country should be dedicated to dissolving the estrangement” between Uighurs and China’s Han majority.