BEIJING (Reuters) - U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will visit China this week, the Foreign Ministry announced on Monday, as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad kept up air strikes against rebels despite a U.N.-brokered truce that now appears to be in tatters.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that China appreciated Brahimi’s mediation efforts in the Syrian crisis, but did not provide details about who he would meet on his two-day visit which begins on Tuesday.
“We have consistently expressed our appreciation and support for Special Representative Brahimi and have proactively proposed that relevant parties in Syria respond to Brahimi’s proposals for a ceasefire in Syria during the Eid al-Adha holiday period,” Hong said.
China and Russia have vetoed three U.N. resolutions condemning Assad’s government for the violence.
But China has been keen to show it does not take sides in Syria and has urged the government there to talk to the opposition and take steps to meet demands for political change. It has said a transitional government should be formed.
China also has its own security worries.
A Chinese newspaper reported on Monday that Islamic separatists from the country’s restive far western Xinjiang region are fighting alongside al Qaeda militants against the Syrian government.
Members of separatists groups have been travelling to Syria since May to “participate in their quest for jihad”, the People’s Daily-published Global Times tabloid said, citing an unnamed Chinese anti-terrorism official.
The official said groups including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which China sees a militant organisation that wants to establish an independent state of East Turkestan, are aiding al Qaeda through kidnapping and gun and drug running operations in Syria.
Separatists from Xinjiang had received “terrorism training” from al Qaeda and traveled to Syria to meet with “jihadists already on the ground before forming groups on the frontlines”, the official was quoted as saying.
Xinjiang is home to the Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighur people, who account for just over 40 percent of the region’s 21 million population. Many Uighurs chafe at Chinese government controls on their culture and religion.
Exiled Uighur groups and human rights activists say China overstates the threat posed by militants in Xinjiang, which sits astride south and central Asia.
China has blamed violence in Xinjiang on Islamic separatists and has said that the militants based in western China also have ties to the Pakistani Taliban and other militants in northwestern Pakistani regions along the Afghan border.
Reporting by Michael Martina; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie