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China's Uyghur Dilemma

The Chinese government's participation in the United States-led war against terrorism is based on their real fear of internationally coordinated Islamic terrorism in China. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has accused Uyghur separatist organizations, such as the Eastern Turkestan Information Center and the Uyghur Liberation Front, of being responsible for attacks ranging from the bombing of the Chinese consulate in Istanbul to a March 1997 bus bombing in Beijing. Now, the Chinese government seeks international support for their domestic crackdown on the Uyghur separatists who they claim have direct links to the Taliban and bin Laden's Islamist inspired organizations.

However, no international Uyghur organization listed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledges any responsibility for these earlier violent actions, and since September 11th, most of their expatriate information centers have disclaimed any support for international or domestic violence. Interestingly, in his last officially broadcast television interview, Osama bin Laden gave his backing to several Islamic liberation struggles, yet he failed to mention the Uyghur independence movement.

Taliban-trained Uyghurs have fought against the Northern Alliance and actively participated in the Chechen Muslim struggle against Russian rule. In the mid- to late-1990s, international Uyghur organizations claimed indirect responsibility for numerous ``acts of resistance'' against Chinese rule, including bombings of police stations in Kashgar and Khotan, bus bombings in Urumqi and Beijing, and large uprisings in Yining (Khulja), Aktush, and Kashgar. Nevertheless, though the Chinese government seeks to demonstrate that the Uyghur are a growing domestic threat, they have been unable to cite any recent incidents of domestic Uyghur-related violence.

In the 1950s, the Uyghur and other local populations welcomed the entrance of the People's Liberation Army in what was recognized as a ``peaceful liberation'' of both Xinjiang and Tibet. In Xinjiang, the locals willingly participated in the political redistribution of land and wealth and looked forward to the end of a three-way civil war that had trapped the region between competing Russian, Chinese Communist, and Chinese Nationalist interests. Simultaneously, continuing ethnic tensions between Uyghur, Kazakh, Hui, and Han Chinese threatened to tear the region apart along local and tribal lines.