skip to content skip to search skip to navigation Listen Live skip to logon
Sunday 21st September 2014
Max 18°C | Min 10°C

Rare Visit To Town At Centre Of Massacre Claims

Monday, 1st September 2014 23:53

Exactly a month ago, disturbing reports emerged from the county of Yarkand in the far southwest of China's Xinjiang Province.

According to several different sources, including the Chinese government, a riot between local Uighur Muslims and the Chinese military had left many people dead.

The initial reports from the Chinese state media claimed that "dozens" had died. The Chinese authorities then revised that figure.

They said riots erupted after a "gang" of Uighurs attacked a police station and government offices in a township near Yarkand City and that "96 people died".

A few days later, a well-known Uighur exile, Rebiya Kadeer, the president of the Germany-based World Uighur Congress (WUC), cited "evidence" that the real death toll was as many as 2000.

Her alarming claim was denied by the Chinese authorities and she did not produce any evidence.

In the month that has passed, a number of journalists have tried to get access to the township. All have been stopped at military roadblocks and turned around.

Tourists have also reported that access to the area was prohibited.

However this week, Sky News managed to visit both Yarkand city and the township where locals claim the massacre took place.

Rebiya Kadeer's claim was that the incident took place in the town of Elishku, but sources speaking to Sky News said it was in the town of Ailixihu.

It is not clear if the two names are different spellings of the same location.

We discovered the mobile internet network had been cut both in Yarkand city and in the outlying villages.

Locals told us that it had been down since the incident. None though would elaborate on the incident itself. Everywhere we went we sensed a huge degree of intimidation.

The Chinese authorities are known to lock up any Uighurs seen talking to foreigners.

Unconfirmed reports claim hundreds of Uighurs have been detained for a variety of crimes in recent months.

In Yarkand city itself, there was a moderate police presence. But on the road to Ailixihu township we passed four military barracks in the space of about 2.5 miles (4km).

Along the main street, people looked at us suspiciously. We could not talk to them though.

Our driver, a Uighur, was explicit: he would not stop the car; he was too frightened.

And so we failed to find out the truth about the massacre. Chinese government intimidation worked.

:: Click here to watch an extended version of Mark Stone's journey into Xinjiang