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China: Tightening Security at Borders - 2001-09-28

China's government is rounding up suspected separatists and tightening security at borders, airports and elsewhere following recent terror attacks in the United States. The clampdown has brought arrests in China's restive western area, and stranded some businessmen and tourists from Middle East nations.

China has arrested suspected Muslim separatists in its far western Xinjiang region, bordering Afghanistan. The French Press Agency is reporting large numbers of Chinese troops have been seen moving around the area at night.

Beijing has said it will take "all necessary measures" to insure stability in its border areas ahead of possible U.S. retaliatory strikes on suspected terrorist sites in neighboring Afghanistan.

China's government blames an Islamic separatist movement in Xinjiang for several bomb attacks in recent years in the region and in Beijing. Chinese efforts to suppress Islamic separatist activity are not new, but the campaign is drawing special attention after the September 11 attacks on U.S. targets.

Meanwhile, the spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, Zhu Banzao, says China opposes all sorts of terrorism. Mr. Zhu says terrorism is a major threat to peace and stability. He says Beijing supports efforts to crack down on terrorism, and will consult with China's central Asian neighbors in the hope of taking joint action against terrorism. He says China can play a "unique" role in the fight against terror.

Mr. Zhu also says security has been stepped up at China's airports and other critical facilities, but would give no details.

Some travelers from Middle East countries complain that China has changed its procedures for issuing entry visas. That has left a number of young travelers from Israel stranded in Mongolia, and many Israeli businessmen stuck in Hong Kong unable to continue their planned journeys through China.

Mr. Zhu says the changes are only "technical" adjustments and says that China still welcomes visitors from around the world.

But an Israeli diplomat tells VOA that since September 17 it has been "nearly impossible" for Israelis and others from the Middle East to get a visa to enter China. He says the embassy is working with Chinese authorities on a "case by case" basis to help individual stranded travelers. He says hundreds of Israelis do business in China and the changes make it difficult for them to complete promised projects including a contract to help set up equipment for the upcoming APEC summit meeting in Shanghai.