Police in Xinjiang have killed 14 members of a group described by the Foreign Ministry as terrorists.
Two police officers were killed in the incident, which occurred late on Sunday near Kashgar in the western part of the restive autonomous region.
A "violent terror gang" attacked police with bombs, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said yesterday.
An analyst said the clash was evidence of a growing trend of militants operating in small groups in the region, where some of the local Uygur population are engaged in a simmering rebellion against Beijing's rule.
"This conspiracy does not enjoy popular support and is doomed to failure," Hua said. The incident "shows once again the anti-human and anti-society nature of the terrorist groups", she added.
The authorities did not disclose the identities of the 14 killed. But Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the Munich-based exiled World Uyghur Congress, said all were Uygurs and two of them were minors, Agence France-Presse reported.
"The abusive use of force by authorities in the area has deprived Uygurs of their right to live," he told Associated Press.
Xinhua reported that police in Kasghar's Shufu county were on their way to arrest criminal suspects when a group of assailants attacked them with machetes and explosives at around 11pm, killing two police officers. Police subsequently shot and killed 14 people and arrested two.
The local government did not answer calls and a police station in Shufu said it had no comment. It was the seventh reported attack in Xinjiang this year.
In Beijing in October, an SUV burst into flames after the driver drove into a crowd in Tiananmen Square, killing three people inside the vehicle and two tourists, and injured 40 people. Security chief Meng Jianzhu said the East Turkestan Islamic Movement was behind the attack. Police said suspects from Hotan in Xinjiang orchestrated the attack.
Li Wei, a Beijing-based anti-terrorism expert, said Xinjiang authorities were looking into a growing network of smaller "violent groups". "Xinjiang has strengthened efforts to combat violence in recent years, making it hard and conspicuous to form large terrorist organisations. Therefore a network of small-scale terrorist organisations has emerged," Li said.
VIOLENT ATTACKS THIS YEAR
March 7: downtown Korla: at least four dead
April 23: Selibuya township, Kashgar: 21 dead, including 15 social workers and police
June 26: Lukqun township, Shanshan county, in Turpan prefecture: 35 killed, including two police
June 28: a township under Hotan: no official death toll, but locals said several people were killed
August 20: Kashgar: at least 16 dead, including one police officer
November 16: Selibuya township, Kashgar: 11 dead, including two auxiliary police officers