China blames weekend's clashes in Xinjiang on separatists trained in Pakistan

China accused a Muslim separatist group that they say trained in Pakistan for a series of weekend attacks in Xinjiang. Locals counter that the violence is homegrown.

Kyodo News/AP
Armed member of Chinese Special Police Corps stand guard near the site of Sunday's attack in Kashgar in China's far-western Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Aug. 1. China on Monday blamed Muslim extremists trained in Pakistan for killing six civilians in an attack in its troubled far western ethnic region where police later fatally shot five suspects.

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The Chinese government blamed the local Muslim minority for weekend violence in the northwestern province of Xinjiang (see map) that left at least 18 people dead in three separate attacks. According to Chinese authorities, the suspects trained in camps over the Pakistan border.

In the city of Kashgar, where the attacks took place, tensions constantly simmer between the indigenous Muslim Uighur minority and the Chinese government. The Uighurs accuse the government of religious repression, "plundering" the region's oil resources, and bringing scores of ethnic Han Chinese to the region to give them a majority, the Wall Street Journal reports.

In the first of the attacks on Saturday night, men hijacked a truck, killed the driver, and drove the truck into a crowd. They also stabbed several people after getting out of the truck, the Los Angeles Times reports. Blasts went off elsewhere in the city that same night and again on Sunday at a downtown restaurant, possibly as a distraction. When people rushed to the scene of the Sunday bombing, men began stabbing them.

Chinese authorities say that one of the suspects confessed to being a part of the separatist Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement and to receiving training in Pakistan. According to Agence France-Presse, the government blames the sporadic violence on the Islamist militant group, which both Beijing and Washington consider a terrorist group, but the L.A. Times reports that local Uighurs say the violence is not coordinated by any particular group and is homegrown.

Local Uighur separatist groups have staged attacks over the years, according to the Wall Street Journal. There is deep resentment over the influx of Han Chinese migrant workers, job discrimination against Uighurs, and the destruction of ancient Uighur buildings to make way for modern Chinese apartments. The government considers the separatist groups terrorist groups.

Time reports that Kashgar has been designated an economic zone in hopes of jumpstarting growth with more open economic policies, but that the destruction of the city's old town has turned the Uighurs against the effort. Xinjiang Province is the hub of China's "Central Asian frontier," sharing borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, and others. It used to be an important stop on the Chinese Silk Road, according to the Associated Press.

Less than two weeks ago, police shot and killed 14 Uighurs who were rioting in Hotan, also in Xinjiang, after they set fire to a police station and killed two officers and two civilians. In 2009, ethnic clashes between Uighurs and Han Chinese left almost 200 dead in the regional capital – one of the worst cases of ethnic violence in Chinese history, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, an overseas exile group, said that violence is likely to increase because of Ramadan, which many Uighurs observe despite a Chinese ban, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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