BEIJING – An overseas Uighur rights organization has protested the Chinese government's use of drones in a security crackdown in the ethnic group's home region of Xinjiang, saying it would intensify tensions that have left dozens of people dead this year.
The Washington D.C.-based Uyghur American Association demanded in a statement Monday that Beijing fully disclose its deployment of drones in an area where Chinese media say a July 28 terror attack left 96 people dead, including 59 attackers who were shot by police.
"The domestic use of unmanned aerial vehicles is an extremely serious and disturbing development," the association said, warning of an escalation in ethnic tensions.
Beijing has blamed militant terrorists with foreign ties for the unrest in the vast region of Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Turkic Uighur people.
Last week, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. said it responded to a request from the Xinjiang government following the July 28 attack and guided police with drones to search for attackers in Xinjiang's Yarkant county.
"We provided important intelligence for the search and arrest of terrorists and were highly praised by the front-line anti-terror police officers," an article on the company's website said.
It said the Xinjiang government had purchased multiple models of unmanned aerial vehicles, which were delivered in the first half of the year to help improve Xinjiang's terror-fighting capabilities.
Xinjiang in May launched a one-year crackdown on terrorism after several attacks involving Uighurs killed dozens earlier this year.
But critics say the harsh measures will raise tensions caused by discriminatory policies and practices by the majority Han Chinese against the minority ethnic group. Uighurs have complained they are economically disenfranchised because Han Chinese are moving into the region to exploit its rich resources, although Beijing insists it is helping develop Xinjiang's economy.
The rights group said the use of drones is troublesome because it shows Beijing is treating Uighur people as "state enemies."
"It is intimidating entire communities, including the very people its purported anti-terror campaign is supposed to protect," UAA president Alim Seytoff said in the statement.