BEIJING (Reuters) – Eleven “terrorists” were killed during an attack in China’s far western region of Xinjiang on Friday, state news agency Xinhua said, in the latest violence to hit a part of the country with a large Muslim population.
A leading member of the ethnic Turkic Uighur community in exile said such attacks were a response to heavy-handed Chinese rule in the region and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, on a visit to Beijing, expressed concern over the state of human rights in Xinjiang, to the annoyance of his hosts.
“The terrorists, riding motorbikes and cars, attacked a team of police who were gathering before the gate of a park for routine patrol at around 4 p.m. in Wushi County in the Aksu Prefecture,” Xinhua said in an English-language report.
“Police said the terrorists had (an) unknown number of LNG cylinders in their car which they had attempted to use as suicide bombs. Several terrorists were shot dead at the scene,” it added.
Eight were killed by police and three died “by their own suicide bomb”, Xinhua said.
Wushi lies close to China’s border with Kyrgyzstan. Last month the Kyrgyz government said its border guards had killed 11 people believed to be members of a militant group of Uighurs.
Xinjiang, home to the ethnic Turkic, mainly Muslim Uighur people and strategically located on the borders of central Asia, has been dogged for years by violence, which Beijing blames on Islamist militants and separatists who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan.
Exiles and many rights groups, however, say the real cause of the unrest is China’s policies, including restrictions on Islam and the Uighur people’s culture and language, charges the government strongly denies.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the main Uighur exile group, the World Uyghur Congress, said China had only itself to blame.
“Violent sweeps and provocation by armed Chinese forces are the reasons why the Uighur people resist. Nobody can continue to put up with China’s provocations and systemic policy of repression,” he said in an emailed statement.
Kerry said he had reiterated U.S. concerns about human rights in China in talks on Friday with officials in Beijing.
“I emphasized today that the United States remains concerned about these situations here in China, human rights situations, especially with respect to the Tibetan and Uighur areas,” Kerry told reporters, without specifically mentioning the Wushi case.
China has been upset by what it sees as a failure by the United States to properly condemn terrorism in Xinjiang and its talking up of human rights there. Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Kerry on Friday there was no place for “double standards”.
“Both sides have a responsibility to fight terrorism,” the Foreign Ministry cited Wang as telling Kerry.
“The international community should firmly oppose and fight terrorism anywhere, in any form and against any target without displaying double standards.”
China beefed up security in Xinjiang after a vehicle ploughed into tourists on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in October, killing the three people in the car and two bystanders in an incident that unnerved the ruling Communist Party.
More than 100 people, including several policemen, have been killed in violence in Xinjiang since last April, according to state media reports.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Gareth Jones)