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No Major Terror Incidents, China's Xinjiang Reports - 2002-03-08

Top officials from China's Xinjiang region have said their area was one of the first battlegrounds in the current war on terrorism. But the restive region's governor has said there have been no major terrorist incidents there in the past year. The comment is surprising since Xinjiang is the focus of a major anti-terrorism effort by China.

Xinjiang Governor Abulahat Abudrixit said his region saw hundreds of terrorist incidents that killed many people during the 1990s. The Governor said there are still almost daily actions by religious extremists and terrorists, in Xinjiang, but they have not caused a major incident in the past 12 months.

Xinjiang is a mostly Muslim area that chafes under rule from Beijing and some members of its Uighur ethnic groups have been working to establish an independent state called East Turkistan.

Xinjiang shares a 90 kilometer border with Afghanistan and Chinese officials have said a number of Uighur separatists have links to Osama bin Laden's forces operating in Afghanistan.

Osama bin Laden is blamed for the September attacks in the United States that killed 3,000 people and sparked the U.S. led global war against terrorism, which now focuses on Afghanistan.

China has sealed its border with Afghanistan and put extra troops on patrol on the Chinese side of the line. Officials said a number of Muslim Uighurs trained in Afghanistan have tried to sneak back into China, but the Governor said "all of them" were captured. He could not yet say if the number involved was dozens or hundreds of people.

Human rights groups have accused China of using the international campaign against terrorism as an excuse to target peaceful opponents of Chinese rule in the predominantly Muslim western region of Xinjiang. China angrily dismisses such criticism as a "double standard" and says the international community should support its fight against terrorism.

Meantime, China has strengthened its security forces to fight a perceived rise in the threat of terrorism. A state-owned newspaper reports special anti-hijacking and anti-terror units have been set up in all of China's 31 provincial capitals, and with additional mobile anti-terror forces deployed in areas thought to be at high risk.