The extradition from Kazakhstan of three ethnic Uygurs suspected of pro-independence activities is a sign of growing co-operation between Beijing and its Central Asian neighbours, a Xinjiang official said. The three men - Hemit Memet, Kasim Mahpir and Ilyas Zordun - were still under investigation about 18 months after being taken to the mainland from Kazakhstan on suspicion of transporting weapons, said Albasbai Rashem, head of Yili prefecture. 'This shows co-operation with Kazakhstan is working,' he said. 'These men were 'splittists' who violated our laws. They were transporting weapons. They were discovered while they were within the country and they fled to Kazakhstan.' The three men had sought political asylum in Kazakhstan but were turned over to mainland authorities early last year. Beijing has been trying to step up ties with its neighbours in the fight against separatists. Extradition agreements have been a key goal. The so-called Shanghai Five group of countries, which met in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, last month, called for co-operation in fighting religious extremism and terrorism. Extradition procedures were a focus of the discussions. The Shanghai Five refers to the mainland, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan - which met in Shanghai in 1996 to promote regional co-operation. Beijing has jailed or executed numerous separatist activists in the restive region of Xinjiang in recent years. Most have been Uygurs, a Turkic-speaking minority that is largely Muslim. Uygur activists have called for the creation of an independent state of East Turkestan. Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organisation, said it feared that the three extradited men might be tortured or face the death penalty for their political activities. Mr Albasbai was speaking to foreign reporters who had been allowed to make a brief stop in Yili during a visit to Xinjiang. In February 1997, separatist riots erupted in Yili, prompting a harsh crackdown. Mr Albasbai said Yili had been calm since the riots and the situation was now stable. A Yili policeman said arrests of separatists continued in the far western city but the situation was relatively calm. Mr Albasbai also said that separatists based in Xinjiang were receiving foreign help, including training and weapons. He declined to name any of the countries involved, although observers have frequently pointed to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Economic development would be a main factor in quelling unrest in the region, although disturbances were likely to continue, according to the Yili official. 'Development is a core issue' in quelling separatist violence, he said. 'We can't resolve this problem [of ethnic separatism] entirely,' he said. 'Where we find it we take action.'