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Chinese terror claims questioned -

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Chinese terror claims questioned

The World Today - Friday, 11 April , 2008 12:12:00

Reporter: Emily Bourke

ASHLEY HALL: There are concerns about the veracity of claims by China that members of the country's
Islamic minority population have been planning terrorist activities for the lead-up to and during
the Beijing Olympics.

Police in China say they've foiled a terrorist plot to kidnap foreigners and bomb buildings, and
they say members of the minority ethnic Uyghurs of East Turkistan are behind the plot.

But long time observers of China, and members of the Uyghur Congress say the claims are designed to
distract world attention away from the issue of Tibet.

Emily Bourke reports.

EMILY BOURKE: Chinese authorities say the terrorist plot involved two groups who planned to bomb
hotels, government buildings and military bases in Beijing and Shanghai, in the lead-up to and
during the Olympics in August.

Police say they've arrested 45 Muslim separatists and seized weapons including explosives and
bomb-making equipment, as well as documents on how to start a "holy war".

A spokesman for the Ministry of Public Security, Wu Heping, announced details of the arrests at a
media briefing in Beijing.

WU HEPING (translated): It has been clarified that from November 2007, this organisation has
secretly planned to kidnap foreign journalists, tourists and athletes during the Olympic Games,
with the objective of getting international attention and thus despoil the Beijing Olympic Games.

EMILY BOURKE: But long time observers of China have serious doubts about the claims made by
Beijing.

Dr Paul Monk from the Austhink Consulting told Lateline it's hard to verify such claims.

PAUL MONK: The difficulty you've got when a regime conducts repressive policies and propaganda, and
refuses to allow open inquiries into almost anything, is that you can't altogether take seriously
whatever it claims.

And certainly most of us would have to be sceptical of claims by the Chinese Government because
we're so accustomed to it engaging in egregious spin.

EMILY BOURKE: One of the groups Beijing has pointed the finger at, is the Muslim Uygur group, a
Turkish-speaking ethnic group based in East Turkistan.

Professor Geremie Barme from the School of Pacific and Asian Studies at ANU (Australian National
University) doubts the group in question could be behind such a plot.

GEREMIE BARME: You might indeed have a major terrorist issue involving people in Xinjiang, I don't
know.

I know that I don't know if I believe anything myself, and they have named one of the terrorist
organisations they've named is this sort of tin pot group that's known for not ever being able to
organise anything, and that they're now a part of this massive plot against the Olympics, is to...
I've already heard from journalist friends in Beijing, they regard it as being some what risible.

EMILY BOURKE: Kuranda Seyit from the Australian branch of the World Uyghur Congress says the
allegations by Beijing aren't new.

KURANDA SEYIT: Well, it's false allegations based on an organisation which virtually, well, really
doesn't exist. And what they've done is they used it as a pretext to, you know, justify their harsh
treatment of the Uyghur people, particularly putting them in prison, stopping them from having any
type of meetings.

EMILY BOURKE: Are the Uyghur people involved in any kind of militant activity?

KURANDA SEYIT: No, well this is the thing - the Uyghur people have for ... and the World Uyghur
Congress has reiterated this on many occasions, that this is a peaceful struggle for
self-determination. The people are very easygoing, nominal Muslims.

They don't take their religion too seriously, there aren't any movements in the area, so it's just
a little bit surprising that you would ... you can actually talk about radical Muslims in the area
because they don't, quite frankly, exist.

EMILY BOURKE: So why do you think attention has been drawn to them now?

KURANDA SEYIT: We've already had information that China will be clamping down. For example, this
year ... well, last year they passed a law that all Uyghur citizens would have their passports
revoked and would have their passports confiscated, so they were actually ordered to hand in their
passports.

And no Uyghur people are allowed to travel anywhere outside of their region that they live in or
overseas. The other thing is that they have made many allegations that there are Islamic
fundamentalists everywhere and that there is an impending attack, but this is just basically, I
call it a red herring to divert attention from other issues, particularly the Tibetan problem.

I'm pretty sure that the Chinese authorities were not expecting the type of activity that has
occurred in Tibet, and now the whole world is looking at China and I think that that has really
prompted them to make more efforts to divert attentions towards the Muslim Uyghur people, which are
much more easy and vulnerable to attack because of their Islamic identity.

It makes it much more palatable to the Western media. This is an obvious ploy to further their
intentions to crack down on the Uyghur people.

ASHLEY HALL: Kuranda Seyit from the Australian branch of the World Uyghur Congress, speaking with
Emily Bourke.