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In Nod to China, U.S. To Freeze Islamic Separatist Group Assets

By Henry Chu and Sonni Efron

In a political victory for China’s Communist regime, the United States has declared it will freeze the financial assets of a shadowy Islamic group reputedly dedicated to promoting independence for the northwest Chinese province of Xinjiang.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, on a two-day visit here, said Monday that the Bush administration considers the so-called East Turkestan Islamic Movement a terrorist organization because it carries out attacks on civilians. China accuses the group of waging a violent separatist campaign in Xinjiang, home to a Turkic-speaking people known as the Uighurs, most of whom are Muslim.

Armitage’s announcement came as a surprise because until several months ago, Washington, D.C., explicitly had refused to draw a link between the war it has declared on terrorism and Beijing’s attempt to crush separatist sentiment in the province, a large territory rich in natural resources.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that although the United States would freeze the assets of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement group, a decision had not been made whether officially to designate it a terrorist organization.

Neither Boucher nor Armitage explained what specific information had prompted the change in the administration’s thinking.

Other sources said the administration reportedly has gathered evidence from Uighurs captured in Afghanistan that validates the Chinese assertion that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement has connections to al-Qaida, and has committed terrorist acts inside and outside China. These sources said a decision to place the group on America’s official “terrorist list” would be forthcoming, perhaps as early as this week.

There are reports that the United States has detained perhaps half a dozen Uighur suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and that the Chinese government has been seeking to interrogate them.