February 19, 2008 / 4:45 PM / 11 years ago

Separatists plot Olympic attacks: Chinese official

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Militants in northwestern China are plotting attacks on the Beijing Olympic Games, a Chinese official said on Tuesday, a day after China released news of a major counter-terrorist operation in the region last month.

Security guards keep watch outside Beijing Olympic Basketball Gymnasium at Wukesong Culture and Sports Center in Beijing February 19, 2008. Militants in northwestern China are plotting attacks on the Beijing Olympic Games, a Chinese official said on Tuesday, a day after China released news of a major counter-terrorist operation in the region last month. REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV

Foreign ministry official Niu Qingbao said “Eastern Turkestan terrorists” had in the past planned attacks on Chinese institutions overseas as well as engaging in militant activity inside the country.

“More recently, they are still plotting terrorist attacks on the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games,” Niu told a security conference hosted by the EastWest Institute, an international think-tank.

He was referring to Uighur separatists in the northwestern region of Xinjiang who are pressing for greater autonomy and a loosening of restrictions on Muslim religious worship.

Xinjiang is home to 8 million Uighurs, a Turkic, mainly Muslim people who share linguistic and cultural ties with Central Asia. Many Uighurs resent the growing Han Chinese presence in the oil-rich region.

Beijing has accused Uighur militants of staging a series of terrorist attacks on civilians since the 1990s.

Niu did not mention last month’s raid — first reported on Monday by the official Xinhua news agency — in which Chinese police shot and killed two members of a “terrorist gang” and detained 15.

Niu, deputy director general at the foreign ministry’s department of external security affairs, said China intended to work with the international community to ensure the safety of the Olympics. The Games open in Beijing on August 8.

“The Chinese government attaches great importance to the fight against the terrorists and takes active measures to safeguard the security of our people, economy and infrastructure,” he added.

Xinhua said on Monday that Chinese soldiers would be given more extensive counter-terrorism training to deal with risks such as nuclear and biochemical threats during the Games.

Reporting by Mark Trevelyan and Ingrid Melander, editing by Tim Pearce

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