- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

BEIJING (AP) - The Chinese government is treating the shooting death of an on-duty soldier as a terrorist attack, with police setting up checkpoints Friday and calling for a counterterrorism response.

Southwestern China has been on high alert for weeks amid fears of a repeat of anti-government riots that rocked Tibetan areas of the country last March. The city of Chongqing, where 18-year-old Han Junliang was killed Thursday night, is adjacent to Sichuan province, where some of the worst violence occurred last year.

Han was standing guard at a military garrison in downtown Chongqing when he was shot by attackers who then made off with his machine gun, the official Xinhua News Agency and other state media reported.

The brief reports said it was unclear how many attackers were involved and provided few additional details but said police and the military were jointly investigating.

The Chongqing Daily cited police as saying the attack on the sentry demanded a counterterrorism response. Police were searching cars at checkpoints throughout the city, Xinhua said.

An official with the propaganda office of the Chongqing Communist Party said police told him the attack was carried out by one assailant wearing a mask. But the official, who like many Chinese bureaucrats would only give his surname, Li, said he was unclear about why police suspected terrorism.

Li said he was told the assailant took one machine gun and fled.

Police cordoned off the area, while schools and businesses were instructed to step up security, locals said. An employee at the Huarui Inn near the garrison said witnesses told him police tactical squads arrived at the scene 15 minutes after the attack.

“They haven’t allowed vehicles to pass (through the area) since last night. There are more police around,” said the man, who hung up when asked for his name.

Civilian attacks on the military and police are extremely rare in China and the local community and Internet were abuzz with rumors and secondhand accounts in the absence of information from authorities.

A woman who answered the phone at a ceramic tile company about 200 meters (650 feet) from the garrison said it was rumored that there were multiple attackers and that one soldier was killed and two others were wounded.

The shooting underscores an increase in violent crimes, often with guns, that has accompanied China’s free-market reforms and a loosening of social controls.

Though the authoritarian government bans private gun ownership, it has acknowledged troubles dealing with armed criminal gangs that are worsening with growing joblessness.

Chongqing is a sprawling metropolis of more than 31 million people and is a magnet for migrants from the countryside looking for work.

The Chinese government is also grappling with separatist movements in Tibet and Xinjiang, the latter a Muslim area abutting Central Asia where violent attacks have sporadically erupted.

An assault last year in Xinjiang involving two men who rammed a dump truck into a group of jogging policemen, killing 16, was the deadliest and most brazen in years. It was blamed on minority Muslim separatists.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide