China has bestowed the "revolutionary martyr" honor on seven people killed in a wave of violence in the western Muslim region of Xinjiang during a period of tight security for the Beijing Olympics, officials and media reported Thursday.
The deaths were memorialized this week as Xinjiang leaders gave a series of speeches pledging to continue a crackdown on the "three evil forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism. The sprawling region _ triple the size of France _ shares borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Central Asian republics.
China insists that separatists and religious fanatics are trying to use violence to usurp Chinese control of Xinjiang, an oil-rich region that's home to 9 million Muslim ethnic Uighurs (pronounced WEE-GURS). But human rights groups have long accused China of using the terror threat as an excuse to impose draconian measures to repress the Turkic minority.
Xinjiang was relatively calm early last year as China prepared to host the Summer Games. But just days before the Olympics began, two militants used a stolen truck, bombs and knives to kill 16 border police on Aug. 4 in the city of Kashgar, state-run media reported. Shortly after the attacks, the victims were named revolutionary martyrs.
This week, seven more people received the honor for deaths related to three other violent incidents in August when more than 30 people died in attacks, according to Tianshannet.com.cn, an state-run Web site for news about Xinjiang. An official at Xinjiang's Civil Affairs Bureau told The Associated Press the names and details in the list _ with the Uighur names all transliterated into Chinese _ were correct. The official declined to provide his name.
Although the violence killed several people of the majority Han Chinese ethnic group, the seven new martyrs were all Uighurs. Three were Communist Party members, including a high-ranking local official. The rest belonged to the Communist Youth League of China, a group for future party members.
Uighur police and officials have long been popular targets for militants who view them as traitors collaborating with the oppressors. The martyr list also repeats a common government propaganda theme: Uighurs are killing their own people.
The list said one of the martyrs was a 21-year-old security guard killed in a bold, well-orchestrated series of bombings in the city of Kuqa that mostly targeted government and police buildings, leaving 12 people dead.
Three other martyrs _ including a cadre for religious affairs _ died Aug. 12 when, according to state-run media reports, attackers jumped out of a vehicle at a checkpoint in Yamanya township near Kashgar and stabbed militia guards, or reservists.
Two more martyrs reportedly died on Aug. 27 in a clash with militants in a village in Jiashi county near Kashgar.
The seventh martyr was a high-ranking local party member who was also the director responsible for supplies and marketing in Baren township near Kashgar. He was serving as a militiamen tracking down militants who fled the strike in Yamanya, an official in the Jiashi propaganda office told the AP by phone. The official declined to give his name.
The martyr, killed on Aug. 29, was one of three militiamen who died in a battle with the militants, who hid in corn fields during a sweeping manhunt, the official said.
In recent months, there haven't been many reports from Xinjiang about more violent incidents, but senior Xinjiang officials have recently warned in their annual reports that they would continue to clamp down on separatists, terrorists and extremists.
The Washington, D.C.-based Uyghur Human Rights Project issued a statement Thursday saying that such warnings often coincide with a spike in arrests, followed by long-term detention, imprisonment, torture and even execution.
Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher with Human Rights Watch's Asia Division, said; "There have been unrelenting campaigns against separatism in Xinjiang. It is not always easy to distinguish between simple political hectoring and the launch of real campaigns."
He added; "In view of the number of people prosecuted under state security this year in Xinjiang, it seems that there is indeed a more vigorous crackdown under way."
Associated Press researcher Xi Yue in Beijing contributed to this report.