China admits 49 were slain in Muslim strife last May

February 21, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

BEIJING -- In a rare confirmation of unrest among China's Muslims, official sources said yesterday that 49 people were killed when paramilitary police units moved in to suppress fighting between rival religious groups outside a Ningxia province mosque last May.

The official New China News Agency said 22 people, including a prominent Ningxia political leader and two Muslim academics, were sentenced to long prison terms this month after they were convicted on charges that included murder and "unlawfully buying guns and ammunition."

Chinese authorities claimed that they confiscated 5,442 guns and 21 homemade cannons after what they described as "gang fighting" in the city of Xiji, 700 miles southwest of Beijing.

The Ningxia incident is the bloodiest in a series of Muslim disturbances that occurred in western China last year. Incidents involving China's Muslims -- who number between 20 million and 40 million, according to various estimates -- are a sensitive issue with the Chinese Communist government, particularly in light of Muslim nationalist and fundamentalist movements in the former southern Soviet republics and other regions of Central Asia.

At several junctures in Chinese history, the Ningxia population has figured in extensive demonstrations against the country's central authorities.

Although the incident in May appeared to involve rival groups attempting to win control of a regional sect, Chinese authorities fear any episode that could ignite the Muslim population and threaten to divide the country.

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