Central Asia Theater
Shelling in the rebel-held eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk left two dead Sept. 17, despite a ceasefire and a law passed by Kiev's parliament a day earlier granting greater autonomy to the country's east. Fighting centered on the city's airport, which remains in government hands, with nearby neighborhoods caught in the crossfire. Civilian casualties have continued to rise since the supposed ceasefire, adding to the estimated 3,000 people killed in the conflict so far. (The Independent, Sept. 17) In an asburd irony little noted by the world media, as Vladiimir Putin backs the brutal "People's Republics" (sic) in eastern Ukraine, he has cracked down on a separatist movement that has emerged in Siberia. Last month, when the Ukraine crisis was at a peak, Russian authorities banned a Siberian independence march and took hrash measures to prevent the media from even reporting it—threatening to block the BBC Russian service over its coverage of the movement. BBC's offense was an interview with Artyom Loskutov, an organizer of the "March for Siberian Federalization," planned for Aug. 17 in Novosibirsk, The Guardian reported.
Chinese authorities now say more than 100 people were killed in violence in Xinjiang on July 28. The official Xinhua news agency says 59 attackers and 37 civilians lost their lives when a gang armed with knives and axes attacked a police station and government offices in Elixku township, Yarkand county (Chinese: Shache), Kashgar prefecture. Some moved on to the nearby Huangdi township, attacking civilians and smashing vehicles. Six vehicles were set on fire. In a separate incident, nine militants were shot dead and one captured in a rural area close to Hotan. More than 30,000 (presumably Han) civilians were reportedly mobilized in the "counter-terrorism" operation. The violence came on the day of the Eid al-Fitr festival, marking the end of Ramadan, and may have been in reaction to official restrictions on honoring the holy day. (SMH, Aug. 3; Xinhua, RFA, July 29)
Authorities in China's Xinjiang region are stepping up security measures in the wake of a stabbing attack that left six Han Chinese farmers dead last week. Security forces shot dead a Uighur man and captured five Uighur suspects following the July 9 incident at Village No. 7 in Uchturpan (Chinese: Wushi) county, Aksu prefecture. (RFA, July 17) Chinese authorities have reportedly ordered mosques in in regional capital Urumqi to use the holy month of Ramadan to publicize Beijing's "anti-terrorism" campaign. Ramadan this year precedes the fifth anniversary of deadly ethnic riots that left nearly 200 dead in 2009. Dilxat Raxit of the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) said: "Between 10 and 18 security personnel have been stationed inside every mosque in the city for surveillance. Also, all mosques are being required to ensure that the surveillance cameras installed there are in normal working order." (RFA, June 28) Authorities have barred government employees and school children from fasting for Ramadan, in what the WUC says is now an annual attempt at systematically erasing the region's Islamic identity. (Al Jazeera, July 5)
Students for a Free Tibet have issued an urgent action alert for Khenpo Kartse, a respected Tibetan Buddhist abbot and human rights defender imprisoned by Chinese authorities for over six months. He is seriously ill with liver and lung disease, and recent reports state that he has been coughing up blood—but has been denied access to his doctor. The action alert calls for supporters around the world to conctact the local Chinese embassy and express concern for Kartse. Arrested in Chengdu, Sichuan province, in early December, Kartse is being held in the Tibet Autonomous Region's Chamdo (Chinese: Changdu) prefecture, in "an extremely cold room with no access to sunlight" and is being inadequately fed, a source close to the case told RFA's Tibetan Service in March. After meeting for the first time with Kartse on Feb. 26, defense lawyer Tang Tian Hao called on Chinese authorities to allow regular medical examinations for the imprisoned monk, "as provided for under the law," the source said. Kartse—who holds the title “Khenpo” denoting a senior religious teacher or abbot—is being held on suspicion of involvement in "anti-state" activities at a monastery in Chamdo. Supporters say Kartse, who is also known as Karma Tsewang, is being persecuted for his work to promote the Tibetan language, culture, and religion. He was also active in social work in the Yulshul area, including in relief efforts following the devastating April 2010 earthquake.
International rights groups welcomed the release June 5 of Tibetan film-maker Dhondup Wangchen, who was imprisoned in China in 2008 for producing the documentary Leaving Fear Behind, which depicted conditions faced by Tibetans under Chinese rule. Wangchen was released from prison in Qinghai's provincial capital, Xining, but faces an unspecified term of deprivation of political rights, according to Wangpo Tethong, a member of the Switzerland-based Tibetan film company Filming for Tibet who spoke to the New York-based Committee to Protect Jouranlists, which has rigorously campaigned for his release. "We are relieved that Dhondup Wangchen has been released, but Chinese authorities will never be able to return the six years they've already taken from him," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "China should seek to end its stigma as one of the world's leading jailers of the press by releasing the many journalists unjustly imprisoned for their work."
Chinese officials in the western region of Xinjiang on May 27 held a public rally at a sports stadium for the mass sentencing of criminals, in which 55 individuals were sentenced before a crowd of 7,000 people. While three received death sentences for crimes including "violent terrorism," other prisoners' crimes ranged from "separatism" to "membership in terror groups." Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have accused China's policies of being discriminatory against Uighurs, Muslims who speak a Turkic language. All individuals named at the sentencing rally [in the city of Yining, Yili prefecture] have Uighur names. This public stand against terrorism and extremism appears to be a response to the recent attacks in Xinjiang's capital of Urumqi.
At least 30 are dead and over 90 injured after attackers in Urumqi, capital of China's restive Xinjiang region, ploughed two SUVs into shoppers at a vegetable market, while hurling explosives from the windows. The vehicles then crashed head-on and one exploded. China's Ministry of Public Security, with typical redundancy, called it a "violent terrorist incident." (BBC News, AP) While this was the worst so far, such attacks are becoming alarmingly frequent in China. A militant group called the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) apparently took responsibility for the April 30 suicide bombing at Urumqui's rail station. (The Guardian, May 14) Radio Free Asia reported on May 9 that more than 100 relatives of one of the men identified as the bombers in the attack have been detained. The police chief in Gulbagh, the village where the attacker hailed from, actually admitted to RFA's Uighur service that most of the detained were women and children. As recently as May 20, RFA reported that police opened fire at a protest by hundreds of Uighurs angry over the detention of several women and middle-school girls for wearing headscarves in Alaqagha township, Kucha county, Aksu prefecture. Although the account could not be confirmed, residents said they feared several were shot dead. On May 21, Reuters reported that 39, all with Uighur names, were sentenced in a rare mass public event to terms of up to 15 years for such crimes as "distributing recordings with extremist content" and "promoting ethnic hatred."
Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel toured Asia earlier this month ahead of Obama's coming visit, and at an April 10 stop in Ulan Bator signed a "joint vision" statement with his Mongolian counterpart Dashdemberel Bat-Erdene, calling for expanding military cooperation through joint training and assistance. "A strong US-Mongolia defense relationship is important as part of the American rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region," Hagel told a joint press conference. Bat-Erdene ruled out the possibility of hosting US forces, citing a Mongolian law that bars foreign military bases from the country. But the agreement is clearly aimed at extending US military encirclement of China. Days earlier, Hagel had lectured his hosts in Beijing over China's establishment of an air defense zone in the East China Sea. He also made a flat warning about the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, telling reporters: "We affirmed that since [the Senkaku Islands] are under Japan's administrative control, they fall under Article 5 of our Mutual Security Treaty." (AFP, April 10; Time, April 8)