A prominent human rights group is urging China not to use the international war against terrorism as an excuse to clamp down even harder on restive Muslim groups in its western border areas.

Amnesty International says China's intensified efforts to repress independence-minded Uighur separatists contribute to a "dismal" human rights climate in the Xinjiang area of western China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi says Muslim separatists are getting overseas support for their struggle against Chinese rule and are responsible for bombings, attacks on government officials, kidnappings and other terrorist acts. Mr. Sun says harsh measures should be taken to clamp down on what he calls the "global scourge of terrorism."

Amnesty International says it recognizes the government's duty to ensure security, but says China's crackdown fails to distinguish between acts of terrorism and acts of peaceful protest or dissent.

Amnesty says a great many people not involved in violence have become the victims of "gross human rights violations" in Xinjiang. The London-based group says since the mid-1990s, hundreds of people have been executed, and thousands more detained and sometimes tortured.