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China's Military Chief in Xinjiang Dismissed Following Tiananmen Incident

  • VOA News

China's ruling Communist Party has removed the military chief of Xinjiang from the province's governing council following a deadly car crash in Beijing's Tiananmen Square blamed on Islamist militants from Xinjiang.

The official Xinjiang Daily reported Sunday that Peng Yong was being replaced after more than two years on the job. The newspaper did not give a reason for the dismissal, but it came after last Monday's incident in Beijing.

On Saturday, Chinese state media released more details about what they called a terrorist attack in Tiananmen Square carried out by militant Uighurs - a mainly Muslim ethnic group in western China.

Reports in Xinjiang told of a crackdown on the minority Uighur community there.

China Central Television said eight Islamist separatists from Xinjiang had been planning the attack for more than a month, and had accumulated thousands of dollars to support their plot.

The state-run broadcaster said three of the suspects drove a vehicle loaded with 400 liters of gasoline into Tiananmen Square Monday. The vehicle crashed and exploded in flames, killing the three men and two tourists, and wounding dozens of other people.

Authorities said the five other suspects left Beijing before the attack and were arrested later in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital.

The World Uyghur Congress said Friday that Chinese police have arrested at least 53 people in Xinjiang since the blast in Beijing. The exile group said "a period of unprecedented repression" appeared imminent, and it appealed for support from the international community.

The World Uyghur Congress, which is based abroad in Munich, said exiles feared that Beijing would use the Tiananmen incident to justify further restrictions on the Uighur community, which they already is considered a target of religious and cultural persecution. It expressed skepticism about Chinese authorities' version of what happened in Beijing, and urged the world to withhold judgment until full details were known.

China's domestic security chief, Meng Jianzhu, said the attack in Beijing on Monday was carried out activists from a Muslim Uighur separatist group based in Xinjiang, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.N., U.S. and others.

The CCTV report, however, said the Tiananmen plotters decided to form a terrorist group only last month.

China said it did not mistreat Uighurs, but was waging a campaign against separatists trying to form a separate nation in what they called East Turkestan. Chinese authorities said Uighurs were guaranteed wide-ranging religious and cultural freedoms.

Clashes in Xinjiang between Uighurs and the Han Chinese majority, including members of government security forces, are common. Beijing said over 200 people have been killed in such attacks in recent years, but this was the first time authorities have blamed Uighurs for a major incident in the national capital.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.