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Koreans Tell of Tense Situation in Urumqi

Posted July. 11, 2009 09:31,   


“I couldn’t’t see anybody at night. The city looked like a ghost town.”

“I felt really nervous since I had no access to a telephone and Internet.”

After visiting China`s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, 130 Korean tourists arrived at Incheon International Airport yesterday morning. They looked tired but relieved.

Most of the tourists departed from Korea July 2 or Monday and arrived at Urumqi to visit religious sites and follow traces of the Silk Road in Turpan, Hami, Dunhuang and Kashgar.

They said the outskirts of Urumqi stayed calm and reported no difficulties travelling. When they entered Urumqi’s downtown, however, they could see armed police and soldiers. They also said they feared not being able to return home as phone and Internet services were cut.

Kim Ji-seok, director of Sinwoo Global Messe Travel Agency, took a group of 16 tourists on a Silk Road tour from July 2. “Some stores and government offices resumed business Thursday. Violent riots have declined. I`ve been greatly concerned over safety of tourists. It is fortunate that we returned to Korea without any problems,” Kim said.

“Curfews have been imposed on the city of Urumqi from Tuesday. When we stayed in a hotel in Urumqi, we felt really nervous. On Wednesday night, we saw thousands of Han Chinese greet armed police with guns in the People’s Square, where the first riot broke out.”

Along with ten graduate students, professor Lee Jong-cheol of the Academy of Korean studies visited Urumqi after looking around Silk Road. “According to sources, Han Chinese and Uighurs fought nearby a Korean restaurant in downtown Urumqi and armed police officers arrested them Thursday. Downtown Urumqi is not a safe place. We initially planned to look around museums and traditional markets there, but changed our plans and immediately returned to Korea due to safety issues,” Lee said.

A tourist in her mid-50s who returned to Korea yesterday said, “On Tuesday, armored vehicles and military trucks were dispatched across Urumqi and armed police camped out in schools. It seemed that Urumqi was in the middle of war. As Chinese police forcefully put down riots, Uighurs hardly mentioned the bloodbath. But they seemed to harbor ill feelings against the Chinese government, which suppresses minorities protesting discrimination.”

Dung Wonjin, a Taiwanese student who returned to Korea along with professor Lee, had a different opinion, however. He said, “I saw around 20 Han Chinese and Uighurs eat together at a restaurant on the outskirts of Urumqi Thursday. They did not share tables but just stayed calm.”

kchwang@donga.com jjj@donga.com