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China Secretly Seizing Uyghur Men, Rights Group Says

Chinese troops deployed in Urumqi in September.

Chinese troops deployed in Urumqi in September.

BEIJING (Reuters) -- Scores of Uyghur men have disappeared since deadly ethnic riots in far-west China in July, seized by security forces who refuse to tell their families anything about their fate, a rights group has said.

Police and soldiers swept through Uyghur neighbourhoods of Urumqi, capital of northwestern Xinjiang region, in the days and weeks after the violence that killed nearly 200, bundling men into vans or marching them away, Human Rights Watch said.

It gave first-hand accounts of more than 40 cases, but added that these were likely just "the tip of the iceberg."

Oil-rich Xinjiang is strategically located in Central Asia but is riven by ethnic tensions. Many Uyghurs feel they are becoming an impoverished minority in their own homeland, and are angered by restrictions on their culture and Islamic religion.

Security forces moved in after protests by Uyghurs in Urumqi on July 5 exploded into bloody attacks on residents, especially Han Chinese.

Streets were sealed off as police checked men's bodies for injuries that could hint they took part in violence and asked where they were the during the riots, sometimes beating them.

Police also burst into homes and offices and seized men without providing warrants or explanations, witnesses said, according to the report from the New York-based advocacy group.

"Three of the policemen just twisted his arms and started dragging him out," the report quoted one father saying of a raid which began when police kicked open the door of his home.

After the Uyghur protests and violence, some Han Chinese also took to the streets, vowing to take revenge for the bloodshed.

None of the Han Chinese interviewed reported disappearances, although the report said it was possible some had been affected.

Official data on the number of people detained have been sporadic and sometimes confusing, but they suggest the number is above 1,000.

A regional spokesman who declined to be named said he could not immediately comment on the report or number of people in detention, but added that figure was "constantly changing."

Uyghurs who did go to the police to ask about relatives were turned away or told there was no information, the report said.

While China often detains people and refuses access by family or lawyers, these cases are different because there was no acknowledgement that someone was being held, the report said.