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Exiled Leader Says China's Uyghurs 'Will Liberate Themselves Or Die'

Rebiya Kadeer rejects Chinese accusations that recent violence was the fault of extremists trained abroad.
Rebiya Kadeer rejects Chinese accusations that recent violence was the fault of extremists trained abroad.
Kashghar and Hotan, two historic centers of Uyghur and Islamic culture in the south of China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, were recently the scene of renewed violence between ethnic Uyghurs and Han Chinese.

About 20 Uyghurs were killed in separate incidents, and Uyghur activists say their anger is boiling over in response to what they call Chinese repression, which they say is aimed at turning them into a minority in their own homeland.

Beijing has accused the Uyghurs of separatism and terrorism and has ordered a massive security clampdown to prevent violence.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Muhammad Tahir in Washington, Rebiya Kadeer, the exiled leader of the World Uyghur Congress, says that the recent incidents were all related.

Kadeer said that following ethnic unrest between Han Chinese and Uyghurs in the regional capital, Urumqi, in July 2009, "around 10,000 [Uyghurs] were arrested. Around 4,000 to 5,000 have disappeared. [Another] 4,000-5,000 people were killed."

Western media have put the death toll from the violence at around 200. China says about 1,000 Uyghurs were arrested, of these 35 were sentenced to death.

"I think the people involved in recent incidents are relatives of those who were killed. And even though this was a huge, tragic event, no one has raised adequate concern," Kadeer added.

She said that the Chinese authorities continue to arrest Uyghurs, and that the number "has now increased from 10,000 to around 70,000 people. The numbers of those who have disappeared and are regularly disappearing have significantly increased."

Kadeer also claimed that plainclothes security officers enter Uyghurs' homes in Hotan and "take the male members of the family and torture them and question them about what they know about the July 5 [2009] events and whether they played a role."

She said that the Uyghurs had expectations that after the Urumqi violence Beijing "would change its policies and treat them better. Therefore, we can say that the [recent violence] is the continuation of the July 5 clashes. I think China will keep killing Uyghurs but [the Uyghurs] won't stop. They won't stop until China changes its policies."

Kadeer also rejected Chinese accusations that the Uyghurs killed last week were trained in Pakistan as "a 100 percent lie," and that they were simply locals who had "suffered" under Chinese rule and simply "couldn't take it anymore."