Chinese border region asks for DNA for travel documents

BEIJING (Reuters) - A sensitive border region in China’s violence-prone far western region of Xinjiang has begun asking applicants for travel documents to provide DNA samples, fingerprints and voice prints, rules released just ahead of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Ramadan, which began this week, is a sensitive time in Xinjiang, where deadly attacks in recent years blamed by Beijing on Islamist militants have left hundreds dead.

People who live in Ili, on the border of Kazakhstan, will need to provide the additional identification when applying for passports and separate documents issued for travel to the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macao as well as the self-ruled island of Taiwan, the official Ili Daily said last week.

The rules are effective from June 1. The story was picked up by Hong Kong-based media this week.

Authorities in Xinjiang in the past have stepped up controls around this time, including on the practice of Islam followed by the Uighur ethnic minority during Ramadan, a people who call Xinjiang home.

China said last week there was no religious discrimination in the far-western region of Xinjiang and there would be no interference in the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, despite criticism from rights groups.

The Ili Daily newspaper did not give a direct reason for the new rules, but said two simplifications to the application process last year there had been a massive increase in applicants.

Calls to the government in Ili seeking comment went unanswered.

Ili’s prefectural capital Gulja, also known in Chinese as Yining, was the site of deadly ethnic riots in 1997 in which at least 10 died.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry