Beijing, Oct. 17--(AP) China has executed two accused Muslim separatists in the far western region of Xinjiang, a state newspaper reported. The report comes as Beijing asks for greater understanding for its fight against alleged terrorists following the Sept. 11 attacks. The pair were taken to an execution ground and shot immediately after being sentenced at a public rally in the city of Yili on Monday, the Yili Evening News reported. It did not name the men.

Three other men were given suspended death sentences - usually commuted to life in prison after two years - and several others given prison terms ranging from five years to life, according to the newspaper. All had been sentenced for the crime of "splitting the nation.

The paper is not available in Beijing and the report was read over the telephone Wednesday by a staff member who declined to give his name. Court officials in Yili and Xinjiang's capital Urumqi confirmed the report but declined to give names or the details of the alleged crimes.

For years, China has been fighting militants seeking a separate state in Xinjiang, which borders on central Asian states, including Afghanistan. Radicals among the Turkic Muslim Uighur natives, who are culturally and linguistically distinct from the Chinese majority, have waged a low-level campaign of bombings and assassinations against Chinese rule. China has responded by strictly controlling religious life and harshly punishing all real or perceived challenges to its rule.

Beijing has asked for greater sympathy for its policies in Xinjiang in the wake of the terror attacks on the United States. Beijing says it supports the campaign against terrorism and claims to have evidence that Xinjiang separatists have links with terrorist groups abroad.

However, critics say China hopes to use the global fight against terrorism as a cover for increased repression. "In order to justify its brutal repression China now labels those Uighurs whose political activities oppose Beijing as terrorists, ethnic separatists and religious fundamentalists," said Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the East Turkestan Information Center, a German-based exiled Uighur group.

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