Chinese state media say at least four people, including a police officer and security guard were killed Monday when an unknown number attackers took hostages and set a police station on fire in China's western Xinjiang region. Chinese authorities did not give any motive for the attack, but the area has seen ethnic clashes in the past.
The official Xinhua news agency says the incident occurred around noon Monday in the city of Hotan. The news agency says a number of people it called thugs attacked a police office. The report says that quickly after that, security personnel rushed to the site and killed several people.
Xinhua says the attackers resisted arrest and that six hostages were rescued. Some were taken to the hospital.
Xinhua did not say why the attack may have occurred, but said the situation was under control a little more than an hour after the incident began.
Dolkun Isa, the secretary of the World Uighur Congress, a Uighur rights group based in Germany, says that in the past couple of weeks police have arrested several people in Hotan and other areas without giving a reason.
“This morning several parents and friends of these people, and some people who got angry about this and were gathering and ask the Chinese government, the local government [that the arrested] should be released, after the people [were] arrested for no reason, [with[ no explanation," he said. "Most of them just disappeared, that's why the people [were] gathering.”
Ethnic tension between Han Chinese and Xinjiang's largely Muslim ethnic group, the Uighurs, has long been an issue in the region. In the past, Xinjiang has been the scene of violent clashes between the two groups. In 2009, the Chinese government says almost 200 people were killed during ethnic rioting in the region.
Isa says it is very difficult to confirm how many people were arrested before Monday’s incident because the Chinese government never made the arrests public. He says his organization is having difficulty contacting sources in Xinjiang, in part because people are afraid to talk to the group.
Isa thinks it was Chinese authorities that responded violently to the protests and their demands for an explanation that led to the incident.
It is not possible to independently verify the claims on either side, because the Chinese government tightly restricts access to Xinjiang. It also has tight control on telecommunications in the region.
Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking population with ethnic ties to Central Asia, have long complained of discrimination by the Beijing government. They say the government suppresses Muslim religious practices and has encouraged millions of ethnic Han Chinese to migrate to the region, pushing Uighurs out of jobs.
Beijing denies those allegations, and says it has done much to improve Xinjiang’s economy and protect the rights of minorities. In the past, Chinese authorities have blamed unrest in the region on “terrorists” seeking the independence for Xinjiang.