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The ethnic conflict in China
On last Saturday, over 10 knife-wielding assailants stormed through a railway station in south-west China and killed 29 innocent travellers while injuring 143 others. According to Chinese officials it was a terrorist attack by ethnic separatists from the far west of the country. Eyewitness said that the attackers were dressed in all black and were wielding long knives.

The State Broadcasting Company CCTV claimed that at least two attackers were women among them. One was captured alive with wounds and taken to the hospital for treatment while the other was killed during the police's counter response. This assault was the deadliest since Uighur-Han conflict 2009, when a Uighur mob attacked and killed Han people at random on the streets of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. A few days later, Hans had retaliated and attacked Uighurs and nearly 200 people died.

The country in past had witnessed several clashes between Uighurs and members of China's ethnic Han majority in Xinjiang. However, the latest Saturday's attack happened more than 620 miles to the South East in Yunnan. This province had not been known for such violent incidents and unrest. The identity of the attackers has not been confirmed, but the municipal government said evidence at the scene showed that it was "a terrorist attack carried out by Xinjiang separatist forces."

The ethnic Uighur-Han conflict is the sore point, a wart on the face of beautiful groom as China would like to present itself to the world. Xinjiang province, the region of concentration of Uighurs, is located in the extreme west of the country abutting central Asia. The Uighurs are a minority with close historical links with Turkey. They are mostly Sunni Muslims with strong Sufi traditions and speak Turkish language. As the main China country progressed, more and more Han migrants landed in Xinjaing and the local Uighurs increasingly felt threatened.

A brief history of Uighurs: Until the late Tang dynasty they were located mainly in Mongolia. They were allies of the Chinese empire. The Uighur empire collapsed in 840 CE and many Uighurs migrated to Xinjiang. As Islam spread across Central Asia, the Uighurs converted to Islam.

They are liberal, tolerant people and their women are not typically veiled. They normally wear a short scarf. Their perception is that Han migration threatens their previous cultural and economic dominance of Xinjiang. Since Mao's revolution, the proportion of Uighurs in Xinjiang has declined and the proportion of Han has risen greatly. The Han is the name given to the dominant Chinese nationality in China.

The Xinjiang Uighur Province is an autonomous region. Many of the Uighurs are merchants and manufacturers based in Xinjiang. They work in catering industry also. A large segment of Uighur population is engaged in cross border trade with central Asia, Pakistan and Russia. By national standards, Han migration into Xinjiang is very small. But the fact is - during the last 15 years perhaps 150 million Han peasants have migrated from rural China into the Chinese cities on the eastern seaboard.

The Uighurs believe that they are economically at a disadvantage side now compared to what they had in 1949. They are proud of their language and culture. Majority of Uighurs prefer to send their children to Uighur language schools. This language problem creates a relative lack of Uighurs in the highest echelons of Xinjiang and Chinese society. It is the same insecurity that minorities around the world feel in different countries.

The Communist rulers have successfully tamed the Tibet population but Uighurs are proving as a hard net to crack.


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