BEIJING - Ethnic Uighurs attacked police with knives and bombs at a traffic checkpoint in China's far western Xinjiang region, leaving at least 18 people dead, according to reports on United States-backed Radio Free Asia.
The report yesterday said the attack on Monday, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, occurred in the southern city of Kashgar, where tensions between Muslim Uighurs, who call the region home, and the majority Han Chinese have led to bloodshed in recent years.
Hundreds have been killed in previous violent incidents across the region, blamed by Beijing on Islamist militants.
In the latest incident, suspects killed several police officers with knives and bombs after speeding through a traffic checkpoint in a car in Kashgar's Tahtakoruk district, Radio Free Asia said, citing Officer Turghun Memet from a nearby police station.
Armed police responded to the attack and killed 15 suspects"designated as terrorists", Radio Free Asia quoted Officer Memet as saying.
It said in all between 18 and 28 people were killed, including several bystanders, but that police estimates of the toll varied.
Repeated calls to the Xinjiang government and public security departments were not answered. Such incidents are frequently reported in overseas media but not confirmed by the Chinese government until days later, if ever.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters that he could not verify the report immediately.
"But if it is correct, then the Chinese government has the responsibility to take resolute steps to stop these kinds of violent terror acts to maintain peace and stability in Xinjiang," he said.
Ramadan is a sensitive time. State media and Xinjiang government websites have published stories and official notices again this year demanding that Communist Party members, civil servants, students and teachers in particular do not observe Ramadan and do not fast.
Last week, a county in southern Xinjiang held a beer festival in what one exiled group called an open provocation, as Muslims are not allowed to drink alcohol.