Up to 23 dead in Xinjiang clash: Reports

BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese policeman was killed in an "anti-terrorism" operation in the restive region of Xinjiang, state media reported on Thursday - an incident last week in which overseas reports said 22 Uighurs were shot dead.

The Global Times said the policeman "died in action against a violent terrorist group".

Xinjiang, a vast and sparsely populated region in China's far west, is prone to sporadic outbreaks of violence. Its population is 46 percent Uighur - most of them Muslim - with 39 percent Han, China's ethnic majority, who largely dominate the economy.

Uighur organisations accuse Beijing of suppressing their language, culture and religion, while China says development of the resource-rich region has raised living standards.

The Kashgar Daily named the policeman as Yan Xiaofei, 32, and said his funeral was held at the weekend in Kashgar, near the border with Kyrgyzstan, after he "heroically gave his life" on August 20.

No other casualties have been officially confirmed, the Global Times said.

But according to Radio Free Asia (RFA), which is funded by the US government, 22 Uighurs were killed in the raid at the edge of a desert area in Yilkiqi.

RFA cited the deputy chief of Yilkiqi township, Alim Hamid, as saying he had been at the scene of the shootout, following which "22 bodies in black bags were carried out by police to an unknown destination".

"Police informed us that those who were killed were terrorists," RFA quoted him as saying. "But they didn't specify what wrong they did." It cited a local Islamic leader, Mahmut Han, as saying that officials told him police monitored "suspicious activity" for about a week beforehand.

Repeated attempts by AFP to seek confirmation from local authorities and police were unsuccessful.

The Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) condemned what it called "extra-judicial killings" and said it was "deeply concerned" about the incident.

"Police surrounded a group of Uighurs who were peacefully praying in the desert, following which they began to fire upon the Uighurs and swiftly burying the deceased in a hole dug up by a bulldozer," it said.

Chinese media and government websites have largely only carried reports about the policeman's death.

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