China demands knives, offers rewards in tense west

BEIJING (AP) — Police in China’s tense far west announced Tuesday that they are confiscating long knives, explosives and guns — and also computers and cellphones containing “terrorist” material — as the government tightens controls on the region after recent unrest.

The order was issued by the public security bureau of Xinjiang (shihn-jeeahng), a region in China’s west that has long been home to a simmering rebellion against Chinese rule among parts of the Muslim Uighur (WEE’-gur) population.

The announcement came as China’s state media ratcheted up the official rhetoric blaming the recent violence in the region on “terrorism, extremism and separatism,” as well as carrying reports that Uighur militants were gaining war-fighting experience in the Middle East. Security forces have been poured into the already tightly controlled area to curb future unrest.

Clashes in Xinjiang over the last several months have killed more than 50 people. In the bloodiest recent incident, 35 people were killed last week when a group of assailants attacked a police station and government offices in the eastern Xinjiang town of Lukqun.

Police on Tuesday also offered rewards of up to $16,300 for information on terrorist activity that helps solve major terror crimes or leads to the arrest of terror suspects, according to a separate notice issued on the region’s official news portal, Tianshan Net. Those who knowingly shelter, protect or help “violent terrorist criminals” will be prosecuted, police said.

The Global Times, a newspaper published by the ruling Communist Party, reported that Uighurs had traveled to Syria to fight alongside Syrian rebels. The paper cited a Chinese anti-terrorism official who said around 100 people had done so over the past year.

The Global Times later said the Syrian ambassador, Imad Moustafa, told the newspaper at least 30 members of the militant group East Turkistan Islamic Movement, which seeks independence for Xinjiang, had entered Syria to fight government forces in Aleppo. The paper cites Moustafa as saying that the Uighur members received military training in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and then went on to Syria via southern Turkey.

As with so many developments in the tightly controlled region, the report could not be independently verified. Calls to the Syrian Embassy’s various offices rang unanswered as did calls to Xinjiang’s regional government propaganda offices and spokespeople’s mobile phones.

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