Killings a minor incident, city's party chief insists

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2008, 12:00am

Authorities in Kashgar yesterday tried to play down Monday's attack on police that left 16 officers dead, saying it was only a 'minor incident' and would have no long-term impact on the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region .

Officials said the attack, carried out by two Uygur men who rammed a truck into a group of police officers and threw homemade bombs at them, was a premeditated act. Fourteen were killed on the spot and two died on the way to hospital.

But Shi Dagang, the Communist Party chief of Kashgar prefecture, insisted yesterday that the impact on the region was minor and that the majority of the Uygur people were on the side of the government.

'Most people in Kashgar strongly oppose any terrorist or violent activities. They want a stable society and fast development. Any attempt to sabotage this is doomed to fail,' he said.

The party boss cited the example of a raid on an alleged jihad training camp in Xinjiang early last year, during which the authorities arrested 17 people who they said were members of a terrorist group.

'The raid was not carried out by police officers. It was reported by local residents who said these suspicious people were searching for food in the mountains. The people informed the authorities, and we took action to arrest these terrorists,' he said. 'This shows the public supports us.'

Kashgar, a predominantly Uygur city in Xinjiang, is 1,400km southwest of Urumqi , the regional capital.

Mr Shi also sidestepped a question on whether the attack was a result of the long-standing friction between the Han Chinese and the native Uygurs. He said the rapid economic development in Kashgar was a result of unity and proved most people wanted to focus on improving their living standards rather than any differences.

'We have experienced rapid economic development in the first half of this year,' he said. 'There are more than 100 foreign investment projects, and you can see construction everywhere.

'We are closing the wealth gap with other parts of Xinjiang.'

Mr Shi said the attack would not reverse the trend of rapid development in the region. He asked journalists to report the incident in an objective manner.

Despite his assurance, local police immediately stepped up security measures.

People entering any major building had to pass through security checks, and their bags were searched by uniformed police officers or security guards. Many local people, however, said they were not afraid of further attacks.

Liu Yaohua , director of the regional Public Security Department, said the radical pro-independent Uygur groups were trying to sabotage the Beijing Olympics. He said that they had captured 18 'terrorists' this year who had received training in 'foreign countries', but refused to elaborate.

Echoing Mr Shi, Mr Liu brushed aside the threats posed by these groups as 'futile and doomed to fail'. He said the attack was an attempt by the 'terrorists' to wage 'psychological warfare' on the public.

Some of the family members of the 16 police officers killed arrived in Kashgar yesterday. Mr Shi said 16 taskforces had been formed, one for the family of each victim.