Chinese police have killed seven alleged kidnappers in Xinjiang, the latest incident in a province where rights activists say the state acts with a heavy hand.
The suspects took two people hostage late on Wednesday in Pishan County in the far southern part of the province, near the borders of India and Pakistan, according to state media, which accused the dead of having links to Islamist extremists.
"The assailants resisted arrest and launched assaults, killing one police officer and injuring another," it was reported. Seven of the suspects were shot dead and four were arrested, the report said. The two hostages were freed.
A simmering separatist campaign in the region has occasionally boiled over into violence. In July 2009 local Uighurs turned on Han Chinese in Urumqi – an incident that led to deadly reprisals by Han on Uighurs a few days later. The riots killed nearly 200 people, most of them ethnic Han Chinese.
Xinjiang is the largest province in China. The Han Chinese see it as an inalienable part of the territory of China, but Uighurs see the region as their homeland and resent the millions of Han Chinese who have poured into the region in recent decades, a migration they describe as cultural imperialism driven by Beijing.
Human rights groups believe Beijing exaggerates the threat from militants to justify harsh controls.
Wednesday's raid in Hotan "was an excuse for more suppression", said Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the German-based World Uighur Congress. Mr Dilxat said that Uighurs in the area gave unverified accounts of a higher death toll and told him that police were confiscating mobile phones to prevent calls, messages and photos from getting out.
Whenever conflict arises, he said, Chinese authorities resort to overwhelming force. "This is the way it is," he said. "As soon as Uighurs resist, the Chinese police turn to violent methods."