REPORTING FROM BEIJING -- Chinese state media reported that 12 people were killed in rioting Tuesday in the outskirts of Kashgar, the westernmost city in the country and the scene of frequent clashes between the local Uighur population and Han Chinese, who have increasingly moved to the relatively remote area.
The official Xinhua news agency said that rioters armed with knives staged an attack Tuesday evening in Yecheng, a Silk Road oasis in the Taklamakan desert extending to the border with Pakistan. The police were pursuing other suspects, the report stated.
There were no further details and the report could not be independently confirmed. Uighur exile groups frequently dispute Chinese accounts of violence in the region.
The Uighurs, who are Muslims and speak a language closer to Turkish than Chinese, have become increasingly resentful of the westward migration of Chinese into what was traditionally their homeland. The Uighurs face discrimination in jobs and education and have difficulty obtaining passports.
China hopes to develop the area around Kashgar into a free-trade zone to encourage commerce with neighboring countries to the west -- Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, among others. As part of the ambitious plans, a new, $578-million highway from Kasghar to Yecheng was opened a week ago. It is unclear if the rioting was prompted by the new road.
Another unexplained incident took place nearby on Dec. 28 in Pishan. Xinhua news agency reported that seven “violent terrorists” were shot dead by police trying to foil a kidnapping. But the World Uighur Conference, an exile group headquartered in Germany, countered that the Uighurs involved had been trying to escape across the border into Pakistan. Women and children were said to be in the fleeing group.
After the incident, a website about Xinjiang, as the northwestern region is known, described it this way: “All other details will be as easy to uncover as a needle in a propaganda haystack.”
-- Barbara Demick