The US Department of State is trying to get third-party countries to accept about a dozen Turkic-speaking Uyghurs who were captured fighting with the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

Washington says they are no longer a threat and is willing to release them.

"We hope the United States will handle the issue of terror suspects with Chinese nationality in Guantanamo with prudence and with a responsible attitude," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said in a statement.

Washington should "handle this matter prudently in line with international law and should not do anything to harm international cooperation on anti-terrorism", she said in a statement posted late on Friday on the ministry's website.

Autonomy desired

Many of the 19 million Muslim Uyghurs, who make up the majority of China's western Xinjiang province, want more autonomy for the region.

Some have staged riots and bomb attacks to try to establish an independent state they call East Turkistan.

Many Muslim Uyghurs of Xinjiang
want autonomy for the region

Beijing has cracked down on the separatists. Rights groups accuse the Chinese government of arbitrary arrests, unfair trials, torture and religious discrimination.

"East Turkistan terrorist forces are a part of international terrorism," Zhang said. "They pose a serious threat to the world community and people's lives and property."

US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Thursday the Uyghurs detained at the US base in Cuba had no wish to return to China for fear of torture and persecution.

Exiled Uyghur Muslim groups are seeking to re-establish an independent East Turkistan in Central Asia, which has existed historically, and was established in the 1940s in the currently Chinese-controlled Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

China considers these groups to be terrorist organisations that should be targeted as part of the international crackdown on global terror.

But rights groups say China is using this as an excuse to justify repression of its Uyghur minority.

Torture and execution

Amnesty International documents that serious and widespread human rights violations have intensified against the Uyghurs in recent years in the context of an ongoing political campaign against "separatists, terrorists and religious extremists" in the region.

As a result, many Uyghurs have fled the region and sought asylum abroad.

Anyone in the XUAR found passing information to the outside world about human rights abuses is at risk of arbitrary detention, torture and other serious human rights violations

Amnesty International report

Some Uyghurs have been detained merely for being relatives or friends of political prisoners or fugitives, or simply for being Uyghurs.

Many have been held without charge for several months, in violation of Chinese law, states an Amnesty report. Their relatives have received no news of them.

High levels of repression have severely curtailed the flow of information from the region on human-rights violations over recent years.

One example is the general lack of publicly available information about death sentences and executions in the region over the past two years.

Asylum-seekers

Over recent years, Amnesty has monitored growing numbers of forced returns of Uyghur asylum-seekers and refugees to China from several neighbouring countries, including Nepal, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan.

The fate of Uyghurs returned to China is often difficult to establish due to tight restrictions on information, including the threat of reprisals against family members who pass such information abroad.

However, in some recent cases, returnees are reported to have been subjected to serious human-rights violations, including torture, unfair trial and even execution, Amnesty says.