updated 11/11/2007 6:49:46 AM ET 2007-11-11T11:49:46

China has sentenced to death five ethnic Muslims from the country’s restive far western region who were accused of separatist activities, state media reported Sunday.

Xinhua News Agency said of the five men who were sentenced to death, two had their sentences suspended for two years. That means the death sentence will be commuted to life in jail if the prisoner shows good behavior and remorse for two years.

A sixth man was sentenced to life in prison by the Intermediate Court in Kashgar on Friday.

Xinhua said the six were convicted of charges ranging from illegally making explosives to leading a terrorist organization.

Chinese authorities say militants among the Uighurs — Turkic-speaking Muslims — are leading a violent Islamic separatist movement in Xinjiang and are seeking to set up an independent state in the Central Asia border province.

“In order to split the nation ... they carried out extreme religious activities and advocated holy war and established a terrorist training base,” Xinhua said of the six.

Accused of recruiting terrorists, killing police
Critics accuse Beijing of using claims of terrorism as an excuse to crack down on peaceful pro-independence sentiment and expressions of Uighur identity.

About 1.5 percent of China’s 1.3 billion people are Muslim, according to the U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report. But not all of them are Uighurs or live in Xinjiang.

A man who answered the phone at the Intermediate Court confirmed the sentences but said he had no other details. He refused to give his name. A call to the city government office rang unanswered.

Xinhua said the six men “recruited dozens of terrorists and sent them to ’Black Valley Training Camp’ to undergo nearly two months of secret training.” It did not say what the training camp was.

It also said the six men killed a police officer when they were arrested. It did not say when they were arrested.

China has cracked down hard on anyone it feels is challenging its authority in Xinjiang. In February, U.S. broadcaster Radio Free Asia reported that China had executed another Muslim, Ismail Semed, in the region on charges of trying to split the country.

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