'Laden had links with Xinjiang terrorist groups'

BEIJING: Acknowledging for the first time the existence of over ten separatist groups in restive Xinjiang region with links to al-Qaida network, China has said these outfits received support and training from chief terror suspect Osama Bin Laden.

"The so-called East Turkistan Terrorist Force in Xinjiang has all along got support from Bin Laden," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said, confirming operation of separatist groups in and outside Xinjiang in north-west China.

"They have been trained by Bin Laden and influenced by his thought," he said.

At a special briefing on terrorism, he reeled out names of Islamic Reformist Party, East Turkistan Democratic Islamic Party, East Turkistan Islamic Rights and Justice Party, East Turkestan National Unity Alliance, Uighur Liberation Organisation, Central Asian Uighur Jihad Party and East Turkistan Information Centre as groups active in Xinjiang.

For years, separatists from Xinjiang's largest ethnic group - Turkish-speaking Uighurs - have waged a low-intensity campaign of bombings and assassinations against Chinese rule and an influx of settlers from China's dominant Han group.

He said China has "clear evidence" that several hundred Uighur separatists have been trained in terrorist camps in Afghanistan adding that these groups have become part of international terrorist network which attacked US on Sept 11.

Diplomatic sources said this is the first time China had presented detailed information about Uighur separatists demanding an independent state of "East Turkistan".

Since 1992, separatist groups' have been operating in Xinjiang. In 1992, the Islamic Reformist Party set off a bomb blast in a bus in Xinjiang capital Urumqi which killed three and wounded 23, Zhu said.

A prison riot in Xinjiang, caused by East Turkistan Islamic Rights and Justice Party in 1996, killed 15 people, he said.

Stating that these facts show the groups have taken part in "terrorist activities", Zhu said "these people have been trained by international terrorists. So the fight against separatists in Xinjiang is part of the fight by world against terrorism".

The ongoing terrorism debate since September 11 gave China an opportunity to pursue its own agenda in restive areas like Xinjiang and Tibet, diplomatic sources said.

At the UN General Assembly session last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said "opposing East Turkistan is an important aspect of international anti-terrorist struggle."

However, China had not got explicit global support for its crackdown on Xinjiang separatists, the sources said.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, on a visit here said she had received reports of abuses against Uighurs which increased since the global anti-terror campaign began.

At Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum summit in Shanghai last month, US President George Bush said no country should use the global anti-terror campaign to "persecute minorities".
( PTI )

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