Chinese police shot and killed two members of the Uighur minority group late Sunday as they attempted to cross the border illegally into Vietnam and assaulted Chinese border guards who tried to stop them, state media reported Monday.
It was latest clash between police and Uighurs – a largely Muslim ethnic group from China’s western frontier – who were apparently trying to flee the country.
According to state media, the would-be exiles clashed with police in Pingxiang, a town near the border with Vietnam. A third Uighur escaped. China Daily reported that the three attacked police with knives, a detail not included in a report from the China News Service.
Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking ethnic group, largely Muslim, whose homeland is what is now China’s Xinjiang region. Many resent China’s rule over the area, and some have rebelled against increasing restrictions on their ability to travel and practice their religion.
China has characterized many of the would-be exiles as “terrorists,” attempting to foment unrest from abroad. Human rights groups say some simply are trying to escape persecution and threats of violence at home.
Because of China’s increasingly close ties with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to the west, the exodus of Uighurs from Xinjiang has shifted over the last decade to countries that border southern China. These include Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.
In April, two Vietnamese borders guards and five Chinese nationals were killed in an apparent clash over immigrants trying to cross the border illegally into Vietnam. Some 16 people, many believed to be Uighurs, were reportedly detained and sent back to China by Vietnam. Their fate is unknown.
Last week, China announced it had arrested 10 Turkish nationals in Shanghai for allegedly supplying Uighur “terrorists” with fake passports to escape the country. So far, China has yet to provide details to support claims that the Uighurs arrested had links to insurgent activities, at home or abroad.
Some experts say the exodus of Uighurs from China is relatively small and largely confined to those trying to escape Xinjiang because of continued violent unrest there. Chinese officials have claimed that more than 100 “Xinjiang terrorists” have joined Islamic insurgents in Syria and Iraq, a figure not easily confirmed.
As of Monday, Chinese media had not reported any capture of the suspect who reportedly had escaped from Sunday’s clash with border police. According to China News Service, the Uighur-speaking man is about 5 feet, 8 inches tall, and wore a red t-shirt and jeans. He was last seen in a mountainous border region where one could easily slip into the jungle.
McClatchy Special Correspondent Tiantian Zhang contributed to this report.