Uighur leader appeals to world year after unrest

Ethnic violence in Xinjiang had left around 200 dead in July 2009.

Updated: Jul 01, 2010, 15:53 PM IST

Washington: One year since China`s worst ethnic violence in decades, the exiled leader of the Uighur minority has seen a surge of global interest in her cause but says the world can do far more.

Long an obscure issue to much of the world, the simmering resentment against Beijing`s rule by the mostly Muslim Uighur community burst into the open in July last year as riots engulfed Urumqi, capital of the vast Xinjiang region.

The violence catapulted into the spotlight Rebiya Kadeer, a department store tycoon turned activist. The 63-year-old mother of 11 spent years in a Chinese prison before she was allowed to go into exile in the United States in 2005.

"I`m just an ordinary woman, yet the Chinese government is so fearful of what I say and do. That shows I stand for justice," Kadeer, her booming voice softened by a smile, said in her tiny office in Washington.

Since the unrest, Kadeer has become an itinerant traveller and a top public enemy for China.

Kadeer has packed crowds in Australia and Japan, which both defied Chinese demands to refuse her entry. She has been invited three times alone to France, where she said there was little interest in the Uighurs before.

But despite a growing profile, Kadeer said that world leaders have been too tepid in standing up to China.

She says that her sources indicated that Chinese authorities have been going door to door since the unrest, rounding up suspicious Uighurs and justifying the raids with occasional announcements of busted "Islamic terrorist" cells.

Kadeer said it was impossible to give an exact number of detained Uighurs due to Internet restriction and a climate of fear.

"Imagine if something like this happened in Palestine or Iraq, the whole world would be screaming. But in East Turkestan, thousands of people are dying or disappearing and who`s talking about it?" she said, using the Uighurs` name for Xinjiang.

"China`s economic power gives it the opportunity to crack down on the Uighurs because they can silence Western governments and also Muslim governments," she said.

"They want to finish with us before the world knows more about the Uighurs the way they know about the Tibetans," she said.

Chinese authorities say that nearly 200 people were killed and up to 1,700 injured in clashes in Urumqi pitting Uighurs against members of China`s dominant Han group.

China has pledged to improve conditions in Xinjiang. It has said it would pour around USD 1.5 billion in development aid into the region beginning in 2011 to raise Uighur living standards and quell discontent.