China's Xinjiang to hire 3,000 ex-soldiers as guards

Paramilitary policemen stand guard during a ceremony to award those who the authorities say participated in "the crackdown of violence and terrorists activities" in Hotan, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region 3 August 2014 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption China stepped up security in Xinjiang following a string of recent public attacks

The capital of China's restive region of Xinjiang will recruit 3,000 former soldiers to help guard its residents, the Chinese government has said.

The soldiers will be carefully vetted to determine their political views. They will join the military and police forces that often patrol Urumqi.

The move comes amid a crackdown against the Uighur Muslim minority group.

China has blamed a spate of violent attacks in Xinjiang on Uighurs pushing for the region's independence.

The BBC's Celia Hatton says that tensions have been on the rise in Xinjiang, where 175 people have died so far this year in clashes between Uighurs and the Han Chinese majority, according to China's state media.

This is a huge increase on the same period last year when 45 people were killed.

'Foreign terror links'

This is the first time former soldiers have been asked by China to guard Urumqi.

Those applying for the role must be under 30, have left the army within the past year and prove that they are "against separatism and illegal religious activities," our correspondent says.

Xinjiang's recruitment office told the BBC it is yet to receive many applications.

Uighurs and Xinjiang

Image copyright AP
  • Uighurs are ethnically Turkic Muslims
  • They make up about 45% of the region's population; 40% are Han Chinese
  • China re-established control in 1949 after crushing short-lived state of East Turkestan
  • Since then, there has been large-scale immigration of Han Chinese
  • Uighurs fear erosion of traditional culture

Who are the Uighurs?

Chinese authorities have arrested more than 300 people on suspicion of terrorism in Xinjiang in the past six months.

They claim that Uighur extremists are inspired and supported by overseas terror groups.

But the Uighurs claim that Beijing exaggerates the threat they pose to justify repressive policies.

Confirming reports about incidents in Xinjiang is difficult, because access is tightly controlled and information flow restricted.

There have been several high-profile, organised attacks on Xinjiang civilians that have left dozens of people dead.

In July the worst incident of violence killed 96 people in Xinjiang's county of Yarkant.

Chinese state media said it was a "terror attack" but activists say police opened fire on people protesting against a Ramadan crackdown on Muslims.