BEIJING, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Chinese forces used a flamethrower to force more than 10 “terrorists” from a cave in the western Xinjiang region, the military’s top newspaper said on Monday, in a graphic account of the hunt for what Beijing called foreign-led extremists.
China said on Friday that security forces had recently killed 28 members of a group that carried out a deadly attack at a coal mine in Aksu in September, the first official mention of the incident reported by Radio Free Asia about two months ago.
In its account, which could not be independently verified, the official People’s Liberation Army Daily said armed police had tracked the attackers into the mountains “like eagles discovering their prey”.
The PLA Daily said the special forces used flash grenades and tear gas to force the attackers out of hiding, but when those methods failed, a senior officer said: “Use the flamethrower”.
After that, the newspaper said the attackers came out at the troops wielding knives and that they were then “completely annihilated”.
China’s government says it faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists in energy-rich Xinjiang, on the border of central Asia, where hundreds have died in violence in recent years.
Rights groups say China has never presented convincing evidence of the existence of a cohesive militant group fighting the government. Much of the unrest, they argue, is due to frustration at controls on the culture and religion of the Muslim Uighur people who live in Xinjiang.
Beijing vehemently denies accusations of rights abuses, though independent verification of the situation in Xinjiang is hard because of tight government controls on visits by foreign reporters.
In a statement in response to the PLA Daily report, Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for exile group the World Uyghur Congress, said: “The Paris attacks gave China a political excuse to brazenly use flamethrowers to clamp down on unarmed Uighurs who have no just legal protection and who seek to avoid arrest.”
Senior Chinese officials have increasingly described the security challenges in Xinjiang as an important front in the global fight against terrorism. Western nations, however, have been reluctant to cooperate in China’s anti-terrorism campaign there, nervous about being implicated in possible rights abuses. (Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Miral Fahmy)