China sentences eight to death for knife, bomb attacks in Xinjiang

This file photo taken on May 22, 2014 shows victims of a bombing lying on a street near the site where attackers ploughed two vehicles into a market and threw explosives, killing at least 31 people, in Urumqi in north-west China's Xinjiang region. Ch
This file photo taken on May 22, 2014 shows victims of a bombing lying on a street near the site where attackers ploughed two vehicles into a market and threw explosives, killing at least 31 people, in Urumqi in north-west China's Xinjiang region. China sentenced eight people to death for their roles in two knife and bomb attacks earlier in the year in the country's restive Xinjiang region, state media reported on Dec 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (Reuters) - China sentenced eight people to death for their roles in two knife and bomb attacks this spring in the country's violence-plagued western region of Xinjiang, state media reported on Monday.

In April, a knife and bomb attack at a train station in the region's capital of Urumqi killed three and injured 79. In May, 39 people at a Urumqi market were killed when attackers hurled explosives out of the windows of two SUVs.

Five others were given a sentence of "suspended death", which in China is usually tantamount to life in prison. Four others were given lesser prison sentences, state television said.

State television broadcast interviews with some of the defendants, who said they had been led astray and regretted their actions.

In such a heavily politicised environment, a fair trial was impossible, said Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for exile group the World Uyghur Congress. "China has not looked at all for the root causes of the incident from the point of view of their own extreme policies,"he said in an emailed statement.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the region in the past two years, mostly due to violence between the Muslim Uighur minority and the majority Han Chinese. The government has blamed a series of attacks in other parts of China, including Beijing, on Islamist militants from Xinjiang.

Exiled Uighur groups and human rights activists say the government's repressive policies in Xinjiang, including controls on Islam, have provoked unrest. Beijing denies that.

Xinjiang, resource-rich and strategically located on the borders of central Asia, is crucial to China's growing energy needs. Analysts say most of the proceeds from sales of its resources have gone to majority Han Chinese, stoking resentment among Uighurs.