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China Asks Help Against Muslims

By JOHN LEICESTER Associated Press Writer

BEIJING - China called for foreign support in its fight against Muslim separatists in its far west, saying Thursday it has evidence that they had links to terrorists abroad.

It was the clearest sign yet that China hopes to use the global anti-terror sentiment after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States to its own domestic advantage.

China has fought Muslim separatists for years in its western region of Xinjiang. Activists campaigning for the creation of an independent nation of East Turkestan are blamed for sporadic bombings and assassinations.

China has been criticized for executing and imprisoning separatist suspects and for its heavy-handed rule in the region. Xinjiang's dominant ethnic group are the Uighurs - Turkic-speaking Muslims who are culturally and linguistically unrelated to China's majority Han ethnic group.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said China has strong evidence that separatists ''have not only participated in terrorist activities they've also had links with international terrorist groups or elements.''

Sun said he could not give specifics of which foreign groups were involved.

But he said many independence activists ''openly state in their programs that they will engage in violence as a way to go against China.''

''We hope that efforts to fight against East Turkestan terrorist forces should become a part of the international efforts and should also win support and understanding,'' Sun said at a regular briefing for reporters.

Human rights activists and Uighur exiles warn Beijing could use the Sept. 11 attacks as an excuse to crack down in Xinjiang.

''China has always been carrying out state terrorism in Uighur areas,'' said Dilxat Raxit, a Sweden-based spokesman for the East Turkestan Information Center, an exiled Uighur group. ''They use violence, the military and all sorts of repression so that we obey Beijing.''

London-based Amnesty International expressed fears Thursday that China will pressure Central Asian republics to ''arrest and extradite Uighurs suspected of being 'separatists' as part of regional 'counter-terorrist' measures.''

Some foreign scholars say China may be exaggerating the separatist threat. Experts say some Uighurs were trained in Afghanistan but that the separatists are few and poorly organized.

But Sun said separatists ''are responsible for a series of terrorist violence activities like bombings, assassinations, poisoning, abductions and robbery.'' Their activities threaten China's security and ''the stability and security of the whole region,'' Sun said.

A respected Hong Kong newspaper, Ming Pao, reported Thursday that police in Xinjiang's regional capital, Urumqi, launched an anti-terrorist crackdown this month that will last until the end of the year.

Ming Pao said Urumqi police have crushed 10 violent terrorist groups and arrested 210 people suspected of terrorism, separatist activity and religious extremism this year.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 11, 2001

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