PRC Government "Closely Following Developments" Along Xinjiang-Kyrgyzstan Border

March 31, 2005

Foreign Ministry press spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters at a March 29 press briefing that the Chinese government has been "closely following the development of the situation in Kyrgyzstan" since protestors overthrew former President Askar Akayev on March 24. China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and Kyrgyzstan share a 682-mile border; ethnic Uighurs, Kyrgyz and other minorities live on both sides of the frontier. Chinese security officials closed the border with Kyrgyzstan between March 23 and 28 as a result of the violence and unsettled political conditions in Bishkek and elsewhere in the Central Asian republic.

MFA spokesman Liu reported that at least 10 Chinese citizens had been injured during rioting in Kyrgyzstan and that Chinese citizens resident there had lost over $7 million in property damages. Liu also said that no additional PRC military forces had been sent to the border. Asked if the situation in Kyrgyzstan might increase separatist activity in Xinjiang, Liu responded, "We believe that jointly cracking down on the 'three forces' is where the common interests and concerns of Central Asia lie. We hope and believe that the countries concerned can continue to cooperate in the crackdown on the three forces."

The Chinese government contends that several Uighur separatist groups seeking to create an independent East Turkestan in Xinjiang are based in Kyrgyzstan, where more than 60,000 ethnic Uighurs live. Over 160,000 Kyrgyz live in Xinjiang, primarily in the Kezilesu Kyrgyz Autonomous County along the border.

Former President Akayev’s government cooperated closely with Chinese government efforts to control the "three forces" of "terrorism, splittism, and religious extremism" in Xinjiang. And the six-member Shanghai Cooperative Organization (China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan) established a regional anti-terrorism center headquartered in Bishkek in June 2004.

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The Akayev regime also helped the Chinese government arrest several Uighurs in Kyrgyzstan and forcibly return them to China during a late 1990s “Strike Hard” campaign against separatism in Xinjiang (see Amnesty International’s 1999 report).

In recent developments, Kyrgyz rioters targeted ethnic Uighurs at the mainly Uighur Madina Bazaar in Bishkek on March 27, according to a report from Agence France-Presse. A witness reported that several people were injured and that looters shouted epithets at the Uighurs. A Madina Bazaar administrator recalled several earlier attacks against Uighurs in 2002 and 2003, including the killing of 21 Uighur “shuttle traders” (itinerant sellers from Xinjiang) in the spring of 2003.

In a March 29 interview, ex-President Akayev said that if he had not fled Kyrgyzstan for Russia the conflict "would have grown into an interregional and interethnic conflict, with all the most dangerous consequences following from this." Interethnic fighting in Kyrgyzstan killed hundreds in 1990.