Sep 14, 2004

East Turkestan: China convicts 50 to Death in "terror crackdown"

China has sentenced more than 50 people to death this year in the western region of Xinjiang in what the Government depicts as a protracted battle against foreign-backed separatists
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China has sentenced more than 50 people to death this year in the western region of Xinjiang in what the government depicts as a protracted battle against foreign-backed separatists.

The Communist Party leader of the predominantly Muslim region, Wang Lequan, said on Monday that despite the tough stance, China saw international "terrorist" forces as gaining ground and vowed no let-up from Beijing in the battle.

"Due to the fact that the activities of international terrorist forces are rampant, we believe our fight against the crime of violent terrorists will continue for a long time to come," Wang told reporters visiting the region.

Many overseas rights groups criticise China for using the global war on terror, launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, as a pretext to crack down on Turkic-speaking ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang who want more autonomy from Beijing, though not necessarily independence.

The government had cracked 22 groups involved in separatist and terrorist activities and meted out the 50 death sentences in the first eight months of the year, Wang said.

But none of those sentenced to death had yet been executed, Wang said without explaining.

"Our efforts will exist as long as there are terrorist crimes," Wang said.

Some Uighurs do seek to turn Xinjiang into an independent homeland, called East Turkestan, and in the 1990s they were blamed for a rash of bombings and assassinations in China.

Since the early 1990s, however, Beijing has cranked up efforts in the region -- and cooperation with neighbouring governments -- to snuff out any separatist designs.

China has also fostered closer ties with Russia and the former Soviet Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which was established in 2001 to fight terrorism.

Beijing has said pro-East Turkestan groups in Xinjiang -- which borders Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as several other Muslim-majority Central Asian nations -- have direct links to the now-deposed Taliban in Afghanistan and the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.

Amnesty International said in a July report that China had detained thousands of Muslims without due process and sentenced them to labour camps in the past three years in the name of the war on terror.

"It's not true," Wang said. "Our country strictly implements the law."

Wang also rejected criticism from abroad that Beijing's crackdown has been, to some extent, racially motivated.

"In Xinjiang's efforts to fight violent terrorist crimes and separatism since the 1990s, there has been no racial or ethnic problem," he said.

"Most of the ethnic splittists are Uighurs, that is not false, but they do not represent the Uighurs," he said.

Wang gave no hint of any let-up in China's crackdown, pointing to the 53-hour siege at a Russian school which ended in the deaths of at least 368 people and has been blamed on Chechen rebels.

"Terrorist events are becoming more and more serious, more and more tragic," he said.

"It wouldn't be right to not fight."

Source: Reuters