The teenager at the center of allegations of sexual assault that sparked the deadly violence in western China's Xinjiang region Wednesday said the incident was nothing more than an "unintentional scream."
A brawl between Han and Uygur workers at a toy factory in the southern Guangdong Province on June 26 is said to have sparked Sunday's riot that left 156 people dead and more than 1,000 injured thousands of kilometers away in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi.
But the people at the center of the conflict believed it was just a row between young men.
The brawl in Shaoguan City was said to have flared up over allegations of a "sexual assault on a Han girl by a Uygur worker" that left two people dead and more than 100 injured.
The "Han girl," a 19-year-old trainee who had worked at the factory less than two months, said she only found out hours later that she was the cause of the violence.
"I was lost and entered the wrong dormitory and screamed when I saw those Uygur young men in the room," said Huang Cuilian, originally from rural Guangdong.
Huang said she had no idea why exactly she was scared. "I just felt they were unfriendly so I turned and ran."
She remembered one of them stood up and stamped his feet as if he would chase her. "I later realized that he was just making fun of me."
She spent the night with a school teacher who accompanied her and her schoolmates to the job, not knowing her screams had stirred a fight between Han and Uygur workers.
Other ethnic Uygurs working at the factory say they will continue to work in Guangdong.
Atigul, 21, says she takes a manual, "900 Phrases of Commercial Chinese," wherever she goes and the bloodshed has not put her off working there.
"I'm ready to stay here for at least a year. After all, my folks back home need to work hard for a whole year to earn what I make in a month," Atigul said through an interpreter. Her monthly wage averages 1,400 yuan, almost equal the annual income she earned in her hometown.
Her co-worker, Yossef, 19, felt more comfortable because he spoke fluent Mandarin, but could not write. "I learned Mandarin at primary school."
Guangdong Province had hired about 800 workers from Xinjiang from May to fill its labor shortages, said Li Xiuying, an official in charge of ethnic and religious affairs in Guangdong.
"Most of them are Uygurs aged from 18 to 29 and are eager to learn. But their distinct lifestyles, culture and poor Mandarin isolate them to some extent from their Han colleagues," she said.
China's booming coastal region is attracting an increasing number of ethnic minorities from the the poor west. Guangdong alone is host to 1.5 million workers of ethnic minorities.
"The fight in the toy factory was just an isolated incident, but unfortunately, the separatists have made use of it to create chaos," said Nur Bekri, chairman of the Xinjiang regional government.
The rioting in Urumqi forced Chinese President Hu Jintao cut short his European trip and returned to Beijing Wednesday, skipping a G8 meeting with leaders from other developing countries that is expected to cover the economic crisis and climate change among other global issues.
A statement on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' website said Hu's trip was cut short "in light of the current situation in Xinjiang".
This change of schedule was the first overt public response by the central leadership to the deadliest riot in six decades in the far western region that covers a sixth of China's territory and has a population of 21 million.
Xinjiang police said they had evidence that the separatist World Uygur Congress led by Rebiya Kadeer masterminded the riot.
"Those rioters by no means represented the Uygur people. They were incited by separatists from abroad and deviated from the spirit of the Koran," said Abdul Rehep, vice president of Xinjiang Islam Association.
About 60 percent of Xinjiang residents are "ethnic minorities," meaning Chinese nationals other than the most populous Han group. They represent 47 ethnic groups including the Uygur, Kazak, Hui, Mongolian, Kirgiz, Tajik, Ozbek, Manchu, Tatar and Russian.
The central government has been implementing a policy that offers many privileges to minorities. These include easier access to colleges and certain jobs and at least two children per family instead of one for Han families in urban areas.