updated 8/31/2008 12:50:40 AM ET 2008-08-31T04:50:40

Chinese police shot dead six people suspected of involvement in a wave of violence in the far western region of Xinjiang and an exile group claimed they were killed after surrendering.

Police reportedly launched an operation to arrest nine people late Friday after a series of attacks in August killed 33 people and threatened to overshadow the Olympic Games.

Xinjiang — an isolated region that borders Afghanistan, Pakistan and six Central Asian nations — is home to China's ethnic minority Uighurs, who say they are repressed by the Chinese government. China has long said that insurgents are leading an Islamic separatist movement in Xinjiang.

Police encountered nine suspects in a corn field near the city of Kashgar on Friday night, , the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The suspects had knives and tried to resist arrest, putting up a "desperate struggle" and wounding one policeman. Three wounded suspects were arrested, it said.

One of the three captured suspects later died in a hospital as did a local militia man who was wounded, the People's Daily newspaper said on its Web site Sunday.

But an Uighur exile group accused police Saturday of gunning down the suspects, members of the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority, after they surrendered.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World Uighur Congress, said armed police surrounded the corn field and asked the Uighur men through a loudspeaker to surrender themselves, promising to provide them with lawyers.

The suspects did not resist arrest, but police with submachine guns opened fire after they had surrendered, Raxit said in a statement Saturday, citing accounts by local Uighurs.

An official from the Xinjiang government — speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media — confirmed six suspects were shot dead. But he denied the men were killed after surrendering and called the allegations "nonsense."

Human rights groups say China has a history of using security threats in Xinjiang as an excuse for much broader crackdowns on human rights in the region.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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