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Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 13:05 GMT
China separatists linked with terror
Street scene in the Xinjiang province, China
China says hundreds of separatists were trained in Afghanistan
China has stepped up its efforts to link its campaign against Islamic separatists in its north-western region of Xinjiang to the international fight against terrorism.

A foreign ministry spokesman said several hundred Uighur separatists had been given military training in camps in Afghanistan linked to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda organisation.

Map of Xinjiang province
And he named several illegal groups which he said were responsible for attacks in the 1990s, for bombing the Chinese consulate in Istanbul in 1998 and killing a Chinese official in last year.

A spokesman for a group named as advocating violence, the East Turkestan movement, has denied the allegations.

The spokesman, Dilxat Raxit, said if individuals had resorted to violence, it was because they had been oppressed by the Chinese Government.

The claims came as French news agency AFP reported that two separatists from Xinjiang were executed on Sunday.

They were among a total of 21 separatists sentenced in the town of Wushi, according to local police.

Rights warning

The foreign ministry's comments are the most detailed yet in China's attempts to win international sympathy for its battle against Islamic separatists.

Kashgar in Xinjiang province
China's Xinjiang province has a large Muslim population
The BBC's Duncan Hewitt in Shanghai said that until recently, China gave few details of such attacks, wary of provoking criticism from international human rights groups which have accused it of using torture against suspected separatists in the region.

But since the 11 September attacks in the US, it is becoming increasingly clear that China now feels it holds the moral high ground in demanding international support for its campaign.

Both President Bush and the UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson warned on recent visits to China that the anti-terror campaign should not be used to justify abuses in China.

The Xinjiang region has been the scene of sporadic incidents of separatist violence in the past few years, and the Beijing government has been quick to claim that such incidents were financed by groups such as al-Qaeda.

As an indirect result in the past few weeks the government sent 1,700 Communist Party officials to the southern Xinjiang city of Kashgar in order to "educate" the public regarding the perceived threat of terrorism.

Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
"China's Communist rulers have their own motives for supporting America in its fight against the Taleban."
See also:

12 Nov 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
China's Muslims look on in anger
09 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese president 'rebuffs' Robinson
08 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Robinson warns China on repression
19 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Terrorism war unites Bush and Jiang
25 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Iran forges links with China's Muslims
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