A Chinese policeman was killed in an “anti-terrorism” operation in the restive region of Xinjiang, state media reported Thursday — an incident last week in which overseas reports said 22 Uighurs were shot dead.
The Global Times said the policeman “died in action against a violent terrorist group”.
Xinjiang, a vast and sparsely populated region in China’s far west, is prone to sporadic outbreaks of violence. Its population is 46 percent Uighur — most of them Muslim — with 39 percent Han, China’s ethnic majority, who largely dominate the economy.
Uighur organisations accuse Beijing of suppressing their language, culture and religion, while China says development of the resource-rich region has raised living standards.
The Kashgar Daily named the policeman as Yan Xiaofei, 32, and said his funeral was held at the weekend in Kashgar, near the border with Kyrgyzstan, after he “heroically gave his life” on August 20.
No other casualties have been officially confirmed, the Global Times said.
But according to Radio Free Asia (RFA), which is funded by the US government, 22 Uighurs were killed in the raid at the edge of a desert area in Yilkiqi.
RFA cited the deputy chief of Yilkiqi township, Alim Hamid, as saying he had been at the scene of the shootout, following which “22 bodies in black bags were carried out by police to an unknown destination”.
“Police informed us that those who were killed were terrorists,” RFA quoted him as saying. “But they didn’t specify what wrong they did.”
View gallery.”Chinese police attend an anti-terrorism exercise in …
Chinese police attend an anti-terrorism exercise in Hami, northwest China’s Xinjiang region on July …
Repeated attempts by AFP to seek confirmation from local authorities and police were unsuccessful.
The Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) condemned what it called “extra-judicial killings” and said it was “deeply concerned” about the incident that left “a dark shadow over the actions of the Chinese authorities”.
“Police surrounded a group of Uighurs who were peacefully praying in the desert, following which they began to fire upon the Uighurs and swiftly burying the deceased in a hole dug up by a bulldozer,” it said.
Chinese media and government websites have largely only carried reports about the policeman’s death.
Five articles published with Uighur names as their authors were posted Wednesday on the government website of Kargilik county, which includes Yilkiqi, condemning “terrorists” and calling for support for the government.
“As a Uighur cadre, I really cannot understand why some people still criticise and attempt to damage our good life, given the favourable polices we have,” said one.
“I want to ask the ‘three forces’, who gave you the right to destroy our happy life?” it said, referring to “terrorists, separatists and extremists” that Beijing has vowed to crack down on.
In June, at least 35 people were killed when according to the Xinhua news agency “knife-wielding mobs” attacked police stations and other sites in the town of Lukqun before security personnel arrived and opened fire.
In April, gunfights broke out in Bachu county, leaving 15 police and community workers and six “terrorists” dead. Earlier this month two men were sentenced to death over the unrest.
The WUC said last month that at least 102 people have died in violence in Xinjiang since March, citing reports by media and Chinese authorities.