China hands death sentences to Uighur "separatists"

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BEIJING, Nov 11 (Reuters) China has sentenced to death or life imprisonment six Uighur activists in its far north west convicted of ''separatist activities'', state media said today.

The six, described as members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, received the verdicts on November. 8 at a local court in Kashgar in the northwest Xinjiang region, for taking part in ''separatist activities'', ''illegally making explosives'' and ''training up a terrorist camp'', official government Web site www.china.com.cn said.

Three were sentenced to death, two received suspended death sentences and the sixth was jailed for life.

The six people were part of ''terrorist group'' captured by the Chinese police during a gun battle last January in the Pamirs Plateau in southern Xinjiang, the report said. Eighteen of the group were killed in the raid and 17 others arrested.

China has waged a relentless campaign against what it calls violent separatist activities of Uighur Muslims agitating for an independent East Turkestan State in the restive, oil-rich Xinjiang region that borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Xinjiang governor Ismail Tiliwaldi said in March that the group had links with al Qaeda.

Rights groups have said Beijing is using its support for the US-led ''war on terror'' to justify a crackdown on Uighurs.

Xinjiang is home to 8 million Uighurs, a Turkic, largely Islamic people who share linguistic and cultural bonds with Central Asia. Many resent the growing Han Chinese economic dominance in Xinjiang, as well as government controls on religion and culture.

REUTERS KK RN1545

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