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China to boost anti-terror cooperation with Central Asia

BEIJING (Reuters) - A security bloc led by China and Russia will set up a special unit to fight terror following an upsurge of violence in China’s restive far western region of Xinjiang blamed in part on militants outside Chinese borders, state media said on Tuesday.

Security personnel stand guard outside a high school during the national college entrance exam in Kunming, Yunnan province, June 7, 2014. REUTERS/Wong Campion

Beijing says separatist groups in Xinjiang are seeking to form their own state called East Turkestan and have pointed to links with militants in Central Asia as well as Pakistan, though experts dispute their influence and reach.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation decided last year to form a new regional group to combat terror, the official China Daily said, without saying when it would come into operation.

China, Russia and four Central Asian nations - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - formed the group in 2001 as a regional security bloc to fight threats posed by radical Islam and drug trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan.

“Many terrorists who carried out deadly attacks in China watched or listened to video or audio files online with extremist ideological content, but such materials are produced or uploaded outside China,” the paper quoted Zhang Xinfeng, director of the bloc’s regional anti-terrorist structure executive committee, as saying.

“The regional anti-terrorist structure decided to set up a special unit at the end of 2013 to deal with the new situation,” he said at its headquarters in Uzbek capital Tashkent.

The new unit will provide help to China, especially to authorities in Xinjiang, to “eliminate online sources of terrorist and extremist information”, the report said.

Many experts and rights groups say economic marginalisation of the Muslim Uighurs, who call Xinjiang home, is one of the main causes of the violence, which has killed at least 180 people across China in the past year.

They argue that benefits of development in Xinjiang, resource-rich and strategically located on the borders of ex-Soviet central Asia, largely have gone to majority Han Chinese, stoking resentment among Uighurs.

The China Daily said that Central Asian countries have become key to assisting China combat the spread of terror.

“Terrorist attacks in Xinjiang are closely related to the activities of terrorist, separatist and extremist forces in Central Asia, so joint anti-terrorist efforts from the member countries are crucial to China’s stability, and it is a long-term mission,” Zhang said.

Member states of the bloc already share intelligence and information and have been strengthened border security cooperation too, he added.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry