ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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China's Uighur 'Problem'

The Xinjiang province is strategically very important for China, but what of the rights of the Uighurs?

On August 4, four days before the 2008 Olympics opened in Beijing, 16 Chinese border police officers were killed in the far-western f rontier cit y of Kashgar in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, allegedly by terrorists. Two days after the Beijing Games began, eight people died in Kuqa city of the same province in what appears to have been an assault by militants who tried to attract world attention to the Uighur issue. Chinese government officials described these attacks in the predominantly Muslim region, locally known as East Turkistan, as an attack by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), referred to as “Islamist terrorists” by Beijing. As the country witnessed several such attacks during the course of the past year, Chinese officials had been voicing concerns about terrorist attacks being the biggest threat to the Olympics.

The government of China claims that ETIM is an associate of Al Qaida with close links to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Jihad Union. But questions naturally arise on the legitimacy of the Chinese claim that there is a serious terrorist problem in Xinjiang province. More often than not the distinction between extremism and a pro-independence movement gets blurred and the label of “terrorist” becomes a weapon to crush movements that are fighting against discrimination and for greater autonomy/independence.

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