CHINA> Regional
7 terror cells uncovered in Kashi: Govt
By Cui Jia (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-06-03 09:49

Seven terrorist cells have been uncovered and destroyed in just four months in one of the country's most remote border regions.

Zhang Jian, Party Secretary of Kashi, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, said the terrorists were caught in the city of Kashi, which shares a border with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

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The local Uyghurs share linguistic and ethnic ties with citizens in neighboring countries.

In an exclusive interview with China Daily, Zhang said the arrests carried out in the first four months of this year had led to stability in the city, but he gave no further details.

"As the matter of fact, the crimine rate in Kashi is among the lowest in China, but its criminal activity has enormous worldwide implications," he said.

His comments follow the April 9 execution of two men who attempted to sabotage the Olympic Games with a fatal attack on local border police.

On August 4 last year, the Uygur men armed with guns, knives, axes and explosives attacked the police, killing 17 and injuring 15.

The border city of Kashi has long been a launching ground for terrorists, with 350 attacks resulting in 60 deaths of government officials and civilians since the 1990s, according to Zhang.

Zhang said there were 11 riots calling for separation since the founding of China. Four were suppressed by military force.

In 2008, 23 military police and police officers were killed in the battle against terrorism, Zhang said. Meanwhile, 591 terrorist organizations and separatist groups had been destroyed across the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region between 1990 and 2003, according to incomplete statistics from the Xinjiang Politics and Law Committee.

Large quantity of weapons and ammunition were seized and destroyed.

"We know that the extremists will keep attempting to separate Xinjiang from China, and we know they will never get what they want," Zhang said.

Zhang said that 90 percent of the Kashi population are Uyghur Muslims.

"Terrorists who cloak themselves as Muslims from neighboring countries mainly target those who cannot speak Mandarin and through illegal preaching lead them into terrorist activities."

According to Zhang, extremists from neighboring countries used to sneak across the border into Xinjiang, but now they can "remote control" locals via the Internet.

"Now the battle against terror has extended to the virtual world as the terrorists use the Internet as their tool to spread their radical ideas," he said.

The government had made inroads against terrorism in the region, but Zhang said there were still weak links. This was the reason why extremists could still organize activities in Xinjiang.

"We know it is going to be a constant battle due to Kashi's sensitive location and we are always ready for it," he said.

The central government has strengthened economic ties with Kashi and tried to cut off potential sources of separatist support from neighboring countries.

"The key to solving the conflict is safeguarding people's interests and improving living standards. Social stability should be based on both sustainable economic development and harmonious ethnic relations," Wang Lequan, the Secretary of Communist Party of China's Xinjiang Committee.

To improve people's living standards, the government invested 1.9 billion yuan ($278 million) between 2000 and 2007 in Kashi. In 2008, investment soared to 3.1 billion yuan. The GDP of Kashi has grown 20 percent for the last three years.

"People join them (the terrorist groups) because they were promised better lives and futures. We noticed that the number of the locals joining the groups has dropped since their living standards have improved," said Zhang.

Now the rural residents of Kashi free healthcare funded by the government and their farming income is not taxed.

"I really couldn't ask for more, I just hope they (the terrorists) won't ruin it," said Alimire, a 56-year-old Uygur farmer.