China tries out new hardware in Xinjiang counter-terror exercise

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has tested 21 new pieces of security equipment, including drones, during a counter-terrorism exercise in the western region of Xinjiang, state media said on Tuesday, as it strengthens its presence in the violence-prone area.

Hundreds of people have been killed over the past few years in resource-rich Xinjiang, strategically located on the borders of central Asia, in violence between the Muslim Uighur people who call the region home and ethnic majority Han Chinese.

The government has blamed the unrest on Islamist militants, though rights groups and exiles say anger at Chinese controls on the religion and culture of Uighurs is more to blame for the unrest. China denies any repression in Xinjiang.

The five-day exercise took place around the cities of Kasghar, Hotan and Aksu, the People’s Liberation Army Daily reported, southern parts of Xinjiang that are deep in the Uighur heartland and at the forefront of China’s security efforts.

The official Xinhua news agency said the exercises involved more than 3,000 people and were part of efforts to combat “violent terrorist attacks ... based on the current security situation in southern Xinjiang”.

The equipment tested included assault helicopters and all-terrain assault vehicles, Xinhua said.

“The exercise strengthened the country’s anti-terrorism system and examined the battle capability of anti-terror equipment,” it said.

“The exercise also examined the force’s ability to carry out missions in complicated circumstances such as in cold mountainous regions, desert and residential areas.”

Xinjiang has generally been quiet this year, with no major reported attacks or other violent incidents.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel