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In China, reporting on Tibetan and Uighur unrest is nearly impossible

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Kyodo News/AP

(Read caption) Uighur residents walk past armed Chinese policemen standing guard in a street of Yecheng in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, northwestern China, Wednesday, Feb. 29. Clashes left a dozen people dead Tuesday in Yecheng, a town in the region that sees periodic violence between Muslim Uighurs and majority Han Chinese, with the latest unrest flaring at a sensitive time just ahead of the national legislature.

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Twelve people died violently in the far western region of Xinjiang last Tuesday, it seems, but lingering questions about who they were and how exactly they died highlight just how hard it is to unearth the truth about ethnic conflicts in China’s farther reaches.

Both Xinjiang, populated mostly by the restive Muslim Uighur minority, and ethnically Tibetan areas of Southwest China have been rocked by violence in recent months. But the authorities have been largely successful in hiding what has been going on from outsiders.

The first news of new trouble in Xinjiang came from the official Chinese government news agency Xinhua, in a short dispatch that said “violent mobs” had hacked 10 people to death on Tuesday on the outskirts of Kashgar, and that the police had shot two people dead.

When a Bloomberg reporter in Beijing sought details from the Kashgar government press office, an official there said reports of unrest were “baseless assertions.” He hung up when the reporter told him that Xinhua was carrying such a report.

Xinhua said nothing about the ethnic identity of the attackers or the victims.

Uighur exiles in Germany, however, had a different story. Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the World Uighur Congress, told the Associated Press that the attackers had killed seven armed Chinese security officers and that three people had been shot to death. Two others had died, Mr. Raxit said, without explaining how.

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