BEIJING -- Chinese authorities, fearing rising ethnic nationalism in Inner Mongolia, have quietly stepped up a crackdown against dissent there over the last year, a report by an international human rights groups said yesterday.
Despite the repression, Inner Mongolians seeking unification with the independent state of Mongolia along the Chinese region's northern border have held about a half-dozen demonstrations since November, the Asia Watch report said.
These protests may have turned violent at times, with one unconfirmed report claiming that protesters in one city exchanged gunfire with Chinese army troops, the report said.
An official Chinese news report earlier this month acknowledged unrest, quoting the region's governor as warning: "We must . . . fight relentlessly against any propaganda or actions aimed at destroying our social stability, ruining our racial harmony and splitting the unity of the motherland."
China's "secret campaign of repression" began in May 1991, with the crushing of two study groups formed by ethnic Mongolians along with some Communist Party officials, the Asia Watch report said. More than a dozen activists are believed to have been arrested.
A 1991 party document, obtained by Asia Watch, claims these groups "used the discussion of national culture and national modernization . . . to oppose the leadership of the Communist Party and the socialist system."
The Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region is China's third-largest administrative area; its 3.5 million ethnic Mongolians outnumber Mongolia's entire population of 2 million. Mongolia broke its longtime dependence on the former Soviet Union in 1990 and is moving rapidly toward multi-party democracy -- a development that has encouraged Inner Mongolian nationalists.
China also labels as "splittists" Tibetan independence activists and ethnic Muslim nationalists in the Xinjiang region who want to establish a new Republic of East Turkestan. In both these areas, there also have been recent reports of stepped-up repression.
In Urumqi, the capital of the western China region of Xinjiang, Muslim separatists are believed to be responsible for a bomb blast in early February that killed as many as six people. Xinjiang leaders, facing growing Muslim nationalism in neighboring former Soviet areas, called two weeks ago for increased vigilance against "infiltration, subversion and sabotage."
In Tibet, China banned all foreign travelers and tightened security during the Tibetan new year celebration earlier this month for fear of anti-Chinese protests, Western reports said. At the same time, Chinese media launched a campaign to counter Western allegations of continuing human rights abuses in Tibet, including arbitrary arrests and torture.