CHINESE police claim to have cracked down on a series of attacks by armed bandits on the Trans-Siberian railway. A spokesman for the Public Security Ministry in Beijing yesterday acknowledged there had been many cases of rape, assault and robbery on the Beijing-to-Moscow train over the past six months, but said the problem had been resolved. ''Apart from some minor incidents, the situation has been relatively quiet for the last two months,'' she said. ''The gangs involved have now basically been smashed.'' The spokesman declined to say how many people had been arrested in connection with the attacks, but an official at the Russian Embassy in Beijing said numerous Chinese had been arrested in the mainland and four people had been detained in Russia. The Russian official also claimed the problem had been resolved, but according to two independent sources the attacks by gangs of Russian and Chinese bandits are still continuing on both sides of the border. In one incident last month, a gang of mainly Russian bandits armed with guns and knives rampaged through a train, raping women passengers and stealing jewellery and other belongings, one source said. The attack, inside the Russian border near Lake Baikal, lasted several hours with the train's security forces and police unable to do anything. ''They just stood by helplessly,'' one witness said. ''The robbers were heavily armed and I'm sure they would have started killing people if the police tried to intervene. ''The Russian police could or would not do anything,'' he said. In a lesser incident, in Inner Mongolia late last month, a group of about six bandits who boarded the train in Russia held several passengers at gunpoint before robbing them. The bulk of the attacks this year have occurred at or near the Sino-Russian border, often when the train was stationary at a platform, allowing the bandits to make a quick getaway. A Chinese trader, who travels regularly between Moscow and Beijing, said gangs were attracted to the Trans-Siberian because of the large number of passengers carrying substantial sums of money and goods destined for sale in China or Russia. ''It is common knowledge that some people carry tens of thousands of US dollars in cash, so it is little wonder these gangs attack the train,'' he said. ''There are big pickings to be had.'' The trader confirmed the attacks had declined over the past two months but said they had not stopped. ''There were several articles about these attacks in the Russian press earlier this year so maybe the security on both sides has been stepped up, but I still think it is quite dangerous to ride that train,'' he said.