One year on, Amnesty urges inquiry into Urumqi violence

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Amnesty International called on the Chinese government Friday to launch an independent inquiry into last year's ethnic violence in the China's Xinjiang region, ahead of the anniversary.

"The official account leaves too many questions unanswered. How many people really died, who killed them, how did it happen, and why?" said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific deputy director.

Police in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi have tightened security for the first anniversary of the violence on July 5, 2009, which erupted between the region's Muslim ethnic Uighurs and members of China's majority Han ethnicity.

The government says nearly 200 people were killed and about 1,700 injured in the unrest, China's worst ethnic violence in decades, with Han making up most of the victims.

Amnesty said it had new testimonies from Uighur witnesses detailing how a peaceful protest against government inaction in the face of killings of Uighur factor workers in southern China was met with violence by security forces.

"Instead of stifling inquiry, blaming outside agitators and generating fear, the Chinese government should use the anniversary to launch a proper investigation, including into the Uighur community's long-simmering grievances that contributed to the unrest," Baber said.

She said a recently approved state development package for the region would not help, arguing that "without a credible independent investigation of the Urumqi riots and underlying grievances, resentment and mistrust will continue".

Xinjiang, a vast, arid but resource-rich region that borders Central Asia, has more than eight million Uighurs, and many are unhappy with what they say has been decades of repressive communist rule by Beijing.

Amnesty called for an independent and impartial inquiry into human rights abuses committed by all participants in the unrest and to ensure fair trials for those facing charges.

© 2010 AFP

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