- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

KASHGAR, China — The old man took off his skullcap in amazement and scratched his shaved pate, while his two grandchildren shrieked at every tank and helicopter gunship that sent the desert dust billowing high.
The red flag of an armed Chinese soldier had stopped their donkey cart on the Kashgar road, as a war was under way just behind him.
China's People's Liberation Army yesterday began one of the largest ever war games exercises in the country's restive northwest frontier province of Xinjiang, home to at least 8 million Muslim Uighurs, many of whom chafe at the rule by distant Beijing.
Several hundred armored personnel carriers, tanks and other military vehicles moved into position yesterday for the four-day exercises on a desolate, mountain-fringed plateau 12 miles north of Kashgar.
Fighter jets and helicopter gunships flew low over hillsides painted with giant targets.
Top brass from the Lanzhou Military Region, which coordinates defense in China's vast slice of Central Asia, have organized thousands of troops from the 69210 Brigade and other units to carry out one of very few live-fire war games in this westernmost corner of China.
Xinjiang borders eight countries, including three former Soviet republics and Afghanistan, whose militant brand of Islam China is desperate to keep out.
Apart from the broader needs of national defense, Beijing's show of strength is designed to reinforce its capacity to control this sensitive and deceptively sleepy area, rocked by anti-Chinese protests in recent years.
Details of the exercises have yet to be made public to the inhabitants of the oasis city Kashgar, the heart of Islam in Chinese Central Asia. But such massive movement of hardware is hard to conceal.
"If the exercises are not aimed against us, then who?" was the bitter response of one Kashgari near the city's central mosque.
He requested anonymity for voicing sentiments that could land him in prison during Beijing's ongoing "Strike Hard" campaign against crime, which in Xinjiang has become a renewed attack against "separatist" elements seeking independence.
China claimed Wednesday that the cultural and basic human rights of its 55 ethnic minorities are fully protected and that minorities' economic and social status is improving.
It made the claim in a report to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which oversees a U.N. anti-bias treaty that China ratified 20 years ago.
A leading human rights group yesterday dismissed China's claims as not true.
"Given that the treaty has now been in force in [China] for 20 years, it is particularly disturbing that so little has been done to combat racial discrimination," said Sophia Woodman, research director for the New York-based group Human Rights in China (HRIC).
The rights group was particularly critical of China's treatment of Uighur Muslims, who live mainly in the far northwest.
China's strategy of encouraging Han Chinese to move to minority-populated regions has resulted in Hans taking most of the jobs and benefits of economic development, the group said.
Another rights group, Amnesty International, said in its latest report on China that Xinjiang was the only region where political prisoners were known to have been executed in recent years.
The pattern of "gross human rights violations included prolonged arbitrary incommunicado detention, torture and ill-treatment and unfair trials," the report said.

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