Two men wanted for the murders of 21 people shot and set ablaze on a Chinese bus in Kyrgyzstan in March have been linked to a Muslim separatist group China considers terrorist, the official China Daily said on Saturday.
The paper said China's embassy in Bishkek had confirmed that two of the suspects sought for the attack were identified as members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an ethnic Uighur group agitating for independence in China's northwest region of Xinjiang.
Most of the passengers on the torched bus were Chinese Uighur traders returning home to Xinjiang after selling merchandise in Kyrgyz markets, Kyrgyz officials have said.
They said the passengers could have been carrying a total of up to $500,000 in cash and blamed the incident on armed robbers.
Last year, the United States added ETIM to its list of terrorist organisations at Beijing's bidding. At the time, U.S. officials said ETIM had planned attacks against foreign missions in Kyrgyzstan.
China has accused Uighur separatists of a series of bombings and uprisings since the 1980s and of fighting alongside Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
But Uighur activists abroad have denied ETIM is a terrorist organisation and have accused Beijing of using the U.S.-led war on terror to justify a police crackdown on Uighurs by singling out ETIM unfairly.
Some Western diplomats and scholars are skeptical that there is a unified Uighur independence movement and say most Uighurs are struggling against cultural and economic inequities.
Reuters, July 12, 2003