BEIJING: Chinese police have shot dead two suspects being hunted for a deadly attack in the restive western region of Xinjiang, which an exiled regional leader blamed on Beijing's hardline policies towards her people.
The two suspects, Memtieli Tiliwaldi and Turson Hasan, were shot by police late on Monday in corn fields on the outskirts of Kashgar city, where on Sunday assailants stormed a restaurant, killed the owner and a waiter, then hacked four people to death, according to the Khasgar government website.
Chinese officials quickly blamed the attack on Uighur militants campaigning for an independent homeland, and said the ringleaders received training in making firearms and explosives in Pakistan before returning to China.
The attack was the latest burst of violence to rattle Xinjiang, where many of the minority Muslim Uighurs resent the presence of Han Chinese, and the controls imposed by Beijing.
But Rebiah Kadeer, a prominent exiled leader of the region's Uighur minority, offered a starkly different diagnosis of the tensions in her homeland and said she was skeptical about linking the attacks to international terrorist group.
"I am saddened that Han Chinese and Uighurs have lost their lives. At the same time, I cannot blame the Uighurs who carry out such attacks for they have been pushed to despair by Chinese policies," Kadeer said in an emailed statement.
"I condemn the Chinese government for the incident. The Chinese government has created an environment of hopelessness that means it must take responsibility for civilian deaths and injuries caused by their discriminatory policies," said Kadeer, president of the World Uyghur Congress, which campaigns for self-rule for Uighurs.
Uyghur is an alternative way of spelling Uighur (pronounced "Wee-gur"), the name for the Turkic-speaking people who now form a minority in Xinjiang.
Kadeer is reviled by China, which jailed her before sending her into exile, and her blaming of government policies for triggering the violence appears sure to rile Beijing.
The governor of Xinjiang, Nur Bekri, visited Kashgar on Monday, and he repeated government vows that those found guilty of such attacks will be punished strictly, according to Xinjiang's official news website (http://www.tianshannet.com).
"We will harshly attack any atrocities that threaten people's lives, defile the dignity of the law, and threaten supreme national interests," Bekri said, according to the report.
China sees Xinjiang as strategic bulwark facing central Asia, and Beijing has shown no sign of loosening its grip on the territory, which accounts for a sixth of the country's land mass and holds deposits of oil and gas.
But the attack in Kashgar was the latest incident laying bare tensions that have brought protests and bursts of violence.
China is a close partner of Pakistan, but Beijing has pressed its neighbour over Uighurs who have fled to Pakistan, where China has said Uighur militants have been recruited and trained by the separatist "East Turkestan Islamic Movement".