China has sent security commandos to Xinjiang as part of a two-month campaign against what Beijing sees as violent Islamist separatists, following fresh outbreaks of deadly ethnic violence in the troubled western region.
Last month, tensions between Muslim Uighurs and ethnic Han Chinese boiled over again. Two knife attacks and clashes between Uighurs and police left more than 30 people dead in the resource-rich and strategically vital province, which borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and a number of Central Asian states.
Beijing fears a repeat of the deadly riots of July 2009, when local Uighurs turned on Han Chinese in the regional capital Urumqi, an incident that led to deadly reprisals by Han Chinese on Uighurs a few days later. The riots killed nearly 200 people, most of them ethnic Han Chinese. The government has since kept a tight grip on the province, with human-rights groups alleging that Beijing exaggerates the threat from militants to justify harsh controls.
In a statement yesterday, the Public Security Bureau of Xinjiang warned that its "strike hard" campaign would focus on "detecting and eliminating unsafe elements" and also "crack down illegal religious activities". Any suspicious activity would be investigated and the trial process would be sped up to deal "even more harshly" with defendants. "The frequency with which terrorist activities are carried out in the region is rising and it must be curbed," the statement said.