Wednesday, 29 May 2002  
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Pakistan hands over Muslim separatist leader-China

URUMQI, China, Tuesday (Reuters) China said that Pakistan had handed over a key leader of Chinese Muslim separatists who fought alongside the Taliban.

It said another 400 suspected militants had been captured in Afghanistan or on their return to China.

Ismail Kadir, who Beijing says helped spearhead a separatist Uighur movement in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, was detained by Pakistan authorities as he attended a secret meeting in disputed Kashmir, Xinjiang's Communist Party Secretary said.

"There were 10 people in charge of the East Turkestan forces and Ismail Kadir was caught and is right now in our hands," Wang Lequan told reporters, adding that China had helped Pakistan confirm his identity.

But Wang said Hasan Mahsum, who China alleges is the overseas ringleader of Chinese Muslims fighting for an independent state of East Turkestan in Xinjiang, remained at large.

China, worried about simmering Islamic unrest in Xinjiang and neighbouring Central Asia, has thrown its weight behind the U.S.-led war on terror in part, analysts say, to legitimise its crackdown on Uighurs harbouring hopes for self-governance.

Monday's briefing was carefully orchestrated to highlight China's own efforts in the war on terror for a group of foreign journalists on a rare tour of Xinjiang. The strategically important region borders Pakistan, Central Asia and Afghanistan, and has vast untapped energy reserves including oil and gas.

China has blamed Uighur separatists for more than 200 violent incidents between 1990 and 2001 in Xinjiang, and says Osama bin Laden, Saudi dissident and chief suspect for the September 11 attacks on the Uniuted States, provided financial and material aid to them.

Uighur activists deny any involvement with bin Laden or his al Qaeda network, and say they are campaigning for religious and cultural freedom in their homeland in Xinjiang, which enjoyed brief independence before the Communist swept to power in 1949.

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