China has sent an elite anti-terrorism unit to the restive far-western region of Xinjiang in the wake of recent violence there and ahead of an international trade convention, a state newspaper reported yesterday.
The Snow Leopard Commando Unit will be based in Aksu City, about halfway between Kashgar, where two violent attacks took place last month, and Urumqi, the China Daily quoted a spokesman for the Xinjiang People’s Armed Police as saying.
At least 20 people died late last month in the two attacks in Kashgar, in the western part of Xinjiang — turmoil the government blames on Muslim extremists.
The spokesman, whom the newspaper did not name, said the unit would patrol and carry out “anti-terrorist missions” in Kashgar and Hotan, a city in southern Xinjiang where violent protests took place last month.
Calls to the Xinjiang regional government and police offices were not answered yesterday.
The China Daily said the commando unit was also being used to boost security for the China-Eurasia Expo, a large trade convention to be held in Urumqi early next month.
The Snow Leopard unit was formed in 2002 and given security responsibilities for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the newspaper said. It is charged with combating terrorism, controlling riots, disposing of bombs, responding to hijackings and carrying out other special tasks, it said.
Security has been tight across Xinjiang since 2009, when almost 200 people were killed in Urumqi in fighting between majority Han Chinese and the Uighur ethnic group.
China blamed that violence on forces outside the country and says the latest attacks were carried out by militants trained in camps run by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement in Pakistan, which borders the southern part of Xinjiang. However, some experts say the government has produced little evidence of an organized terrorist threat, adding the violence stems more from long-standing local resentment.
Uighurs are culturally, linguistically and religiously distinct from China’s Han ethnic majority and share many links with the native populations of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and other parts of Central Asia. Many deeply resent the Han Chinese majority as interlopers and see mass migration to the region as dooming them to minority status in their own homeland.
China defends its treatment of minorities, saying all ethnic groups are treated equally and that tens of billions of dollars in investment and aid have raised their living standards.
Xinjiang is China’s Central Asian frontier, bordering Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia and other countries. Eighty percent of Kashgar’s population of 600,000 is Uighur.