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US removes Uighur group from terror list blamed by China for attacks

China frequently blames the East Turkestan Islamic Movement for attacks in Xinjiang, but scholars say Beijing has produced little evidence
The decision comes days before 12 November, the 76th and 87th anniversary of two short-lived Uighur republics, known as East Turkestan
The decision comes days before 12 November, the 76th and 87th anniversary of two short-lived Uighur republics, known as East Turkestan (AFP/File photo)
By in
Washington

The United States has revoked the terror designation of a largely defunct Uighur group which China accuses of plotting terror attacks in the resource-rich Xinjiang region.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a notice in the Federal Register on Friday that he was revoking the designation of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as a "terrorist organisation".

"ETIM was removed from the list because, for more than a decade, there has been no credible evidence that ETIM continues to exist," a State Department spokesperson said.

The administration of president George W Bush in 2004 added ETIM, also sometimes called the Turkestan Islamic Party, to a blacklist as it found common cause with China in the US-led "war on terror".

Beijing has frequently blamed ETIM for attacks when attempting to justify its measures in Xinjiang, where rights groups say that one million or more Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim people, are incarcerated in camps.

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But scholars say China has produced little evidence that ETIM is an organised group, or that it is to blame for attacks in Xinjiang, which separatists call East Turkestan.

The Washington-based Uighur Human Rights Project called the State Department decision "long overdue" and a "definitive rejection of China's claims".

"The harmful effects of China's exploitation of the imagined 'ETIM' threat are real - 20 years of state terror directed at Uighurs," said the group's executive director, Omer Kanat.

China has acknowledged camps in Xinjiang, but describes them as "vocational centres" meant to reduce the allure of Islamic radicalism.

While experts have doubted the role of ETIM, China has blamed a series of attacks over the past decade and more on Uighur separatists.

Activists say China is trying to forcibly integrate Uighurs by indoctrinating them with communist ideology and making them renounce Islamic customs.

Pompeo has previously called the mass incarceration "the stain of the century" and US senators across party lines are seeking to declare China's treatment of the Uighurs a genocide.