Robbery spree targets Chinese

By Liu Yunlong Source:Global Times Published: 2013-12-17 1:03:01

Chinese businessmen sell goods in Zhonghai market in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Around 160 stalls run by Chinese are in the market, occupying half of the space. Photo: courtesy of Wang Xiaohuang

Chinese businessmen sell goods in Zhonghai market in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Around 160 stalls run by Chinese are in the market, occupying half of the space. Photo: courtesy of Wang Xiaohuang

"We are afraid and very worried about our safety here," said Zhang Xiaole, a Chinese university student in Kyrgyzstan, who still felt terrified when recalling the encounter with three armed robbers at her apartment in Bishkek a fortnight ago.

On the night of November 28, Zhang and two friends returned home after having dinner at a restaurant and they were frightened to notice that they were being tailed by three strangers, Zhang told the Global Times reporter last week.

"At the moment when the elevator door opened on the sixth floor where we live, the guys rushed at us and one of them took out a gun, pointing it at us and demanding we keep silent," Zhang said.

The three robbers then forced them to open their apartment door and began looting, during which the 30-something-year-old gunman forced them to sit down, lower their heads and keep quiet.

"Before leaving, the robbers asked us to prepare $1,000 and said they would call us four days later," said Zhang, adding that "They also warned us not to call the police, otherwise they will kill us."

After the robbery, Zhang called the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek, seeking help. Around 50 policemen showed up in the house to investigate and collect evidence.

"Days after the robbery, we would receive mysterious phone calls every day. But no one would talk when we picked up the phone. It was silent," said a startled Zhang.

Official warning

Zhang and her friends are not alone in being victims of robbery. Many Chinese people, especially Chinese businessmen, have been targeted in Bishkek recently. Reports said dozens of robberies have occurred since October, making Chinese businessmen feel jittery.

The Chinese Embassy in Kyrgyzstan issued a statement on its website on November 25, warning all Chinese living in the Central Asian state to be cautious. At least 20 Chinese citizens were victims of robbery from October 22 to November 24, with one person suffering a head injury and a total of $13,800 worth of assets looted. The embassy noted it had received nine reports of robbery since November 11.

Wang Xiaohuang, a Chinese businessman in Bishkek's Zhonghai market, told the Global Times that robberies targeting Chinese businessmen had already begun in September.

For example, a Chinese businessmen surnamed Shen was robbed outside his home on September 22. "My wife and I went to work at around 6 am, but when we opened the door that morning, three men with knives and guns broke in," Shen recalled.

"One man pointed a gun against my chest and another man held my wife," said Shen. "They found $100 in the room and took around 45,000 soms ($900) from our pockets."

Zhang Xiaole also confirmed to the Global Times that these gunmen are mainly targeting Chinese people. "During the robbery, they asked us whether we are Chinese businessmen," said Zhang. "We told them we are just Chinese students, but they didn't believe us at all."

Wang confirmed to the Global Times that a Chinese man, the owner of a glasses store in Bishkek, was kidnapped and killed in July.

There are around 80,000 Chinese people living in the country and 30,000 Chinese stay in Bishkek, said Wang. "Most Chinese are running businesses here and we have contributed much to the countries' economy."

Fear of retaliation

Wang said he believed there are more robbery cases than the embassy's statistics, adding that many Chinese victims don't call the police for fear of retaliation from the thugs, which leads to the growth of such cases.

Li Quanjun, a Chinese businessman, told the Global Times that some robbers even acted in collusion with local policemen. Li's company suffered two premeditated robberies last year, leaving one of his employees dead and two heavily injured.

According to Li, all the suspects had been arrested, but to his astonishment one of the suspects was a policeman.

Wang said he has helped many victims of the robbery by contacting the police, but found his own safety is at risk.

"Last Monday, when I drove with my wife back home after visiting a victim, two gunmen got out from a nearby car and began trying to smash our window," said Wang . "Fortunately, we kept calm and left safely."

"I guess that the two gunmen are accomplices of those arrested robbers, who want to take revenge for my frequent appearance at the police station," he said. Worrying about the safety of his pregnant wife, Wang said they rarely went out these days. When some victims called them for help, they would call the Chinese Embassy.

One official at the Chinese Embassy told the Global Times that Kyrgyzstan's economy is not good after revolutions in 2005 and 2010.

"People in the country are poor and some former policemen were engaged in criminal activities after being dismissed," said the official who didn't want his name published.

The crime rate in the country tends to go up at the end of almost every year, he said. "The embassy has contacted Kyrgyzstan's interior ministry and police department, urging them to crack down on those criminal cases."

The official said that most Chinese victims were reluctant to call the police, making it difficult to investigate these cases. "We have visited the businessmen in Zhonghai market and encouraged them to report their cases to the police."

"To tackle the issue once for call, we are calling on the Kyrgyzstan authorities to adopt some long-lasting measures, like building police boxes and installing surveillance cameras in markets where Chinese businessmen gather," he said.

The names of some victims have been altered

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