Thursday, July 9, 2009

Search for Han Chinese sister whose family were butchered by Uighurs

What was once a grocery shop is now a blackened mess. Two boys in shorts and singlets play in the rubble but the usual occupants are absent. Five days ago a Han Chinese family was butchered in this small shop — victims of the Uighurs who rampaged through Urumqi.

Yu Dongzhi described how he clawed through the smoking ruins of the store to search for the family who lived there. He hoped to find his sister, Yu Xinli; her husband, Zhang Mingying; their 13-year-old son; her elderly mother-in-law; and a nephew aged 27.

The police helped him to dig among sacks of flour and bottles of rice wine melted by the heat of the blaze.

He found no survivors, only four bodies. He has yet to discover the fate of his sister.

Mr Yu is a heavily built man in his fifties and more than 6ft, but he almost weeps with despair. “I just hope I can find my sister in an intensive care unit of one of the hospitals. But so far, nothing.”

He has checked the mortuaries and photo galleries of unclaimed bodies held by the police, but his sister was not among them.

He has been refused access to the intensive care units. “I don’t say that I want to go in to disturb these very sick people, but why can’t they show us photographs of the injured? At least then I could find my sister,” he said.

Mr Yu cannot bear to think that she may have been dragged away by the rioters and murdered.

Just coping with the deaths of his sister’s family has almost overwhelmed him. The bodies were among the corpses whose pictures have been carried in local newspapers. So shocking was the family tragedy that one newspaper carried a special report on it, Police have confirmed the killings.

As The Times stood outside what is left of No 447 Zhongwan Street, a Han neighbour approached. She had watched the killings from her home in an apartment block overlooking the store.

“We saw hundreds of Uighurs running down the street on the afternoon of July 5. About ten suddenly rushed into the store. They began to hit the people inside, even the old mother, with bricks and stones. They tried to run outside. Then they were dragged back inside.

“There were terrible screams. Just wordless screams. But then very quickly they fell silent.”

She said that the son tried to hide in a chicken coop but was dragged out and his head was cut off. All the victims were left to burn inside the building. The corpses of the boy and his father were found beheaded. Mr Yu said: “Even the 84-year-old mother was stoned and then burnt. It was terrible, terrible. So cruel.”

Mr Yu made his way yesterday to a temporary emergency centre in an Urumqi hotel. At some desks clerks helped Han and Uighurs to process requests for compensation for damaged cars or destroyed businesses.

In a corner, two women waited at a desk for families seeking missing loved ones or reporting the deaths of relatives. This was where Mr Yu hoped to find help in the hunt for his sister. Officials were unable to explain what he could do next.

He sat in the hotel room-turned-office surrounded by relatives, just waiting. “I still have to keep up my hopes,” he said.

Mr Yu is too busy looking for his sister to organise the funerals for her family. That painful task will come next.

More than a decade ago his brother-in-law moved from central Henan province to run a successful business in a district with a high proportion of ethnic Uighur residents. “Perhaps they were jealous of his success. They clearly targeted the family. It looked as if they had decided in advance to pick on my sister. The police are pursuing the case and they have made some arrests,” said Mr Yu.

Nearby, a Uighur family run a small restaurant. The man shrugged when asked about the family who only a week ago ran a thriving business. He refused to talk about his late Han neighbours.

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