"They are Chinese terrorist suspects who should be repatriated to China rather than being granted refugee status," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.

He said China had not been given any "formal information" from Albania on the status of the Uighurs, who were granted asylum on July 13 and are at a refugee centre in Tirana.

The five men were detained by US forces during the war in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks.

The men said they left Xinjiang in the far northwest of China six years ago to escape possible repression at the hands of the government.

Crushing campaign

A joint report by Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China last year accused Beijing of a "crushing campaign of religious repression" against the Uighurs.

Liu said the men were members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a group that the government says is waging a separatist campaign.

Beijing also says the group has links to al-Qaeda and has received arms and training from the group.

In 2002, the US listed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement as a terrorist group - a move that some believed was a concession to China in exchange for support of the US-led "war on terror".

The five Uighurs were taken to Albania on May 5 after US authorities said they posed no terrorist threat but might face persecution if returned to China.