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China Bans Foreigners Near Border

The Associated Press, Tue 9 Oct 2001

BEIJING (AP) China, trying to keep regional tensions out of its restive Muslim northwest, said Tuesday it has put extra troops on its borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan and closed the area to foreigners.

Meanwhile, China's Foreign Ministry said police were assisting U.S. investigations into the Sept. 11 terror attacks and would pass on any ``important clue or leads.''

Chinese President Jiang Zemin, in phone call Monday night from President Bush, pledged renewed support for anti-terrorism efforts, state media reported.

But Jiang said it was ``very important'' that military strikes target terrorists only, not the Afghan people or Muslims, and that casualties among ordinary civilians be avoided.

China's expressions of support have been more cautious than those of the other permanent U.N. Security Council members Britain, France and Russia partly due to strong anti-American feelings in the Chinese military and public.

Beijing's leaders are reluctant to endorse military intervention in other nations for fear of setting a precedent for outside action over China's own restive regions of Tibet and Xinjiang.

Xinjiang borders Afghanistan and Pakistan. Separatists from the region's largest ethnic group Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighurs have waged a low-intensity campaign of bombings, attacks and assassinations against Chinese rule.

Chinese leaders are eager to ensure that Islamic zealots and refugees from the U.S. and British air strikes in Afghanistan do not spill over the frontier. China formally closed the border with Afghanistan on Monday because of the strikes, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi.

It was largely a formality: China does not recognize Afghanistan's Taliban regime and its short, remote and mountainous border with the country already was effectively sealed.

Officially, China's border with Pakistan is open, but foreigners are barred from a county at the frontier, Sun said, apparently preventing them from crossing in either direction. Tashkorgan county borders Afghanistan and Pakistan and straddles the Karakoram Highway, a popular route linking China and Pakistan until the Sept. 11 attacks scared many tourists and traders away.

``Against the current turn of events, the region has been temporarily shut down to the outside,'' Sun said at a regular briefing for reporters. ``This closure includes all foreigners, including journalists and tourists.''

Sun said China was seeking to ensure ``safety and stability in the border areas.'' He confirmed that China has ``strengthened military deployment'' in the area, but would not say why it was closed to foreigners.

Sun said U.S. officials have briefed China on the investigation into the attacks. A senior visiting U.S. diplomat, James Kelly, also discussed anti-terrorism efforts Tuesday with a Chinese counterpart, Sun said.

Kelly is preparing for Bush's visit to the Chinese city of Shanghai in two weeks for a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders. They are expected to discuss terrorism.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 09, 2001

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