China arrests foreign militants in restive west

Oct 18, 2005 ― By Emma Graham-Harrison

URUMQI, China (Reuters) - China has arrested 19 foreigners on terrorism charges in its restive northwestern region of Xinjiang and told the children of a freed dissident they cannot go abroad, a regional leader said on Tuesday.

Beijing has waged a relentless campaign against militants from Xinjiang's Uighur minority who have struggled for decades to make the region an independent state called East Turkestan and whom China has labeled foreign-backed terrorists.

"This year, we have arrested 19 people from abroad who were sent to Xinjiang for violent sabotage," Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Wang Lequan told reporters at a news conference in the region's capital, Urumqi.

"When they entered the territory of Xinjiang, we immediately caught them," Wang said without elaborating.

In August, China charged Uighur dissident Rebiya Kadeer, now living in exile in the United States, with conspiring to sabotage celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region on October 1. She was also charged with evading taxes, committing fraud and running up heavy debts.

The government had told Kadeer's children they could not leave the country until the family's debts were paid, Wang said.

"We asked them not to leave the country before the present issue is resolved because if they settle outside China, who shall return their evaded taxes?" he said.

China freed businesswoman Kadeer in March, after almost six years in jail for providing state secrets abroad, just ahead of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In May, Washington raised concerns about the safety of Kadeer's friends and family when a rights group said police had detained and beaten some of her associates and tried to arrest her son.

"We haven't put any limits on their (her children's') personal freedom," Wang said.

Many of the Turkic-speaking Uighurs favor greater autonomy from Beijing and complain of inequities under rule by Han Chinese.

Wang acknowledged there was an ethnic income gap in Xinjiang, where Uighurs made up 45 to 46 percent of the population and Han around 38 percent.

"That Uighurs' incomes are lower than Hans' incomes is true," he said.

The party secretary, who sits on China's all-powerful politburo, also confirmed that Mutalifu Yusufu, former mayor of the Xinjiang city of Korla, killed himself in late September while under investigation for corruption.

Yusufu, his wife and other relatives, skimmed millions of yuan in a chemical fertilizer scam, Wang said, noting a "complete conclusion" on the case had yet to be made.

"There is one thing for sure, he was involved in his wife's corruption and then committed suicide," he said.

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