- Thu, 12/29/2016 - 15:44
By JAVIER C. HERNÁNDEZ
DEC. 29, 2016
BEIJING — Five people were killed in a clash at a branch of the Communist Party in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, the state news media reported on Thursday.
The authorities described the violence, which occurred on Wednesday, as a terrorist attack. They said that assailants armed with knives and a bomb stormed the Moyu County party offices in western Xinjiang, killing an official and a security guard. The police shot dead three people at the scene, according to Xinhua, a state news agency.
The confrontation was the latest outburst of violence in a region plagued by tensions between the government and the Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority who inhabit Xinjiang, a desolate area that borders Kazakhstan, Mongolia and several other countries. It has been months since the government last reported an attack in the region.
China has waged a far-reaching campaign against what it calls Islamic extremism in the region in recent years, warning that separatists in Xinjiang are coordinating with jihadist groups abroad to carry out terrorist attacks in China.
But Uighur residents have disputed that characterization, arguing that repressive policies toward Muslims in the region, including strict limits on freedom of religion and speech, have provoked resistance.
In its report on the violence, Xinhua cited a statement from the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, but it did not identify the instigators. The local authorities described them simply as rioters.
But advocates for Uighurs raised doubts about the official account.
“We strongly question the reason given for the incident and the number of casualties reported by the government due to a lack of transparency,” said Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, a group in Munich that advocates self-determination for Xinjiang.
Mr. Raxit, citing accounts from residents, said the authorities had arrested 20 people in Moyu, also known as Karakax County, in connection with the violence.
The Ministry of Public Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
The confrontation erupted shortly before 5 p.m. on Wednesday, according to Xinhua. Several people emerged from a car and began attacking government employees with knives before detonating a bomb, Xinhua reported. A party official and a security guard were killed, according to Xinhua, and three others were injured.
In recent years, violence has surged in Xinjiang, and hundreds of people have died in conflicts between the government, run mostly by ethnic Han, the dominant group in China, and Uighurs.
On social media, many people praised the government’s handling of the clash, while others said they were concerned about ethnic tensions in Chinese society.
“We’re a socialist country,” one user wrote on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter. “We should strive for ethnic equality and rooting out ethnic divisions.”