Uyghur Leader Denies Terror Charges
Washington, January 29 - The secretive leader of a minority separatist group said his East Turkestan Liberation Organization (ETLO) will “inevitably” form a military wing to target the Chinese government. But Mehmet Emin Hazret denied engaging in any previous attacks and rejected links with another Uyghur faction that the United States and the United Nations last year branded a terrorist group.
“Our principal goal is to achieve independence for East Turkestan by peaceful means. But to show our enemies and friends our determination on the East Turkestan issue, we view a military wing as inevitable,” Hazret told Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur service in a telephone interview from an undisclosed location. East Turkestan is the name many Uyghurs prefer to designate what is now known as the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in northwestern China.
"The Chinese people are not our enemy. Our problem is with the Chinese government, which violates the human rights of the Uyghur people,” he said. Hazret, one of China’s most wanted men, also denied Chinese allegations that ETLO has engaged in arson and deadly violence against Chinese interests and nationals in China and Turkey.
“We have not been and will not be involved in any kind of terrorist action inside or outside China,” he said. “We have been trying to solve the East Turkestan problem through peaceful means. But the Chinese government's brutality in East Turkestan may have forced some individuals to resort to violence.”
Hazret, 53, a former screenwriter in Xinjiang who immigrated to Turkey in 1989, said his group had no connection with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), designated a terrorist organization in 2002 by the Bush Administration and the United Nations. ETIM is a small, militant group seeking independence for Uyghur Moslems in Xinjiang. ETLO is known as a more secular organization.
“I hadn’t even heard of ETIM until the Chinese government mentioned its name in a report in January 2002,” he said. “But I knew the leaders of this group whom the report mentioned. For many years, they were in Chinese prisons for political reasons, and they escaped from China. We don’t have any organizational relations with them because politically we don’t share the same goals. But I cannot believe they carried out any terrorist attacks as the Chinese authorities say they did, because they themselves are victims of Chinese state terrorism.”
Hazret insisted that ETLO has no ties to al-Qaeda or to Osama bin Laden. He also welcomed the stepped-up U.S. presence in Afghanistan and Central Asia and the overthrow of the fundamentalist Taliban regime in Kabul. “I have never been to Afghanistan and never met Osama bin Laden. We have nothing in common with him or any group associated with him. We want to concentrate on our issue, which is independence for the Uyghur people. We don't have any problem with any government in the world except China.”
Washington’s labeling of ETIM as a terrorist group dismayed many Uyghur exiles who reject violence and accuse China of repressing the Uyghur people.
China’s State Council, in a report dated Jan. 21, 2002, charged that from 1990-2001 various Uyghur separatist groups “were responsible for over 200 terrorist incidents in Xinjiang” that resulted in the deaths of 162 people and injuries to 440 others. The report, titled “East Turkestan Terrorist Forces Cannot Get Away With Impunity,” also dismissed allegations that Beijing had used the U.S.-led war on terror as a pretext to crack down on Uyghurs.
The report condemned numerous Uyghur groups including Hazret’s ETLO; the ETIM; the Islamic Reformist Party “Shock Brigade”; the East Turkestan Islamic Party; the East Turkestan Opposition Party; the East Turkestan Islamic Party of Allah; the Uyghur Liberation Organization; the Islamic Holy Warriors; and the East Turkestan International Committee.
ETIM was notably cited as maintaining close links to Osama bin Laden and allegedly sending trained agents and weapons into Xinjiang in 1998. The report also cited attacks on police stations, the killing of judicial officials, and the bombing of civilian buses. In many of these instances, no one has ever claimed responsibility, and the Chinese government has never named those responsible.
The Chinese report notably accused foreign-trained ETLO agents specifically of committing “15 cases of arson” in the busiest areas of the Xinjiang provincial capital, Urumqi, in May 1998. In October 1999, Istanbul police detained 10 member of ETLO in connection with a series of attacks on Chinese nationals in Turkey.
On its Chinese-language Web page, the Xinjiang Autonomous Region police bureau alleges that Hazret has personally dispatched alleged terrorists to the Chinese-Kazakh border on 18 separate occasions--armed with handguns, bullets, and bombs. In a report dated April 6, 1998, and headlined “Mountain of Evidence,” the police bureau describes seven gunfights between Chinese police and ETLO operatives at the border, which it says left four Chinese police dead and seven injured. Among numerous alleged culprits, it identified only Hazret and another man, Hameet, by name.
Radio Free Asia (RFA) broadcasts news and information to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia. Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo, and Kham), and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content.