Beijing: An increasing number of militants of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) fighting for separation of China`s Muslim majority Xinjiang province were "fleeing to Pakistan and settling down there for future plots”, a state-run newspaper reported on Monday.
"According to latest reports, the ETIM has been in close collaboration with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden," the China Daily said in its lead story on the first anniversary of the bloody riots in Xinjiang capital Urumqi in which an estimated 200 people were killed.
It said an ETIM leader is also reported to be hiding in Pakistan and there are also reports of a "Chinese battalion" made up of about 320 ETIM members in the Taliban forces.
It said a number of ETIM fighters were "fleeing to Pakistan and settling down there for future plots".
"It is not hard for them (ETIM members) to hide in Pakistan. They have similar religious beliefs, appearances and languages as the locals," the report said.
The report about ETIM militants settling down in Pakistan came a day before the visit of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, who during his week-long stay is expected to firm up the deal with China to finance and build two 650 mw nuclear reactors.
Xinjiang Autonomous province, the home of ethnic Uyghur Muslims of Turkish origin, observed the first anniversary of last years riots in which over 200 people were killed and several hundreds injured.
Chinese troops virtually converted the province into a veritable fortress deploying hundreds of soldiers and over 40,000 surveillance cameras to prevent any recurrence of violence coinciding with the first anniversary.
The same Daily earlier carried a report that the Chinese and Pakistani armies are holding anti-terrorism exercises in China and may conduct joint operations in the future against the ETIM militants.
The newspaper speculated that the recent arrest of 10 members of the ETIM was accomplished with the help of the Pakistan Army.
Uyghurs of Turkish-origin went on a rampage protesting the increasing settlement of Hans, who constituted over 90 percent of the majority in mainland Chinese provinces.
The protests were also attributed to some hardline policies pursued by the provincial government including mandatory learning of Chinese.
The Chinese government subsequently introduced the two-language policy to give a lift to local Turkic language.
The Chinese-Pak military exercises being held in the close by Ningxia autonomous province, which also has substantial Muslim population focussed on anti-terror training.
"Owning to the prevailing environments in our region, there is a need to enhance our cooperation," Lt Gen Khalid Shameem Wynne, chief of the general staff of the Pakistani Army was quoted by the Daily as telling soldiers at the opening ceremony of the drill.
The joint exercise is crucial for upgrading troops` capabilities in fighting terrorism together and safeguarding regional peace and security, Lt Gen Wang Guosheng, commander of Lanzhou Military Command, said at the opening ceremony.
This is third such exercises being held by troops of both sides since 2004.
"Our task this time is to conduct anti-terror joint drills in the mountainous border area," Senior Colonel Li Fuhua, director-general of the guiding committee of the Chinese side for the joint drill, said on the sidelines of the exercise.