Chinese police have shot and killed six suspects who tried to set off an explosive device in the far northwestern region of Xinjiang, state media reported.

Police were called to a business district in the town of Shule on Monday to investigate a suspicious man carrying what appeared to be an explosive device, according to TS News agency, which specialises in news about Xinjiang.

The axe-wielding individual tried to attack police officers and set off the expolosive device, prompting the officers to shoot him, the local government was quoted as saying.

The report added that as police tried to dispose of the explosive device they were attacked by five "thugs" who sought to detonate it, but did not make clear if this was a separate incident. Police killed the men, according government sources.

The report said that no officers or onlookers were injured.

Monday's incident came two months after 15 people were killed when a group threw explosives into a crowded street of vendors selling food in Xinjiang.

Hundreds of people have been killed in Xinjiang, strategically located on the borders of Central Asia, in violence in the past two years between the Muslim Uighur people who call the region home and ethnic majority Han Chinese.

Homemade explosive devices have often featured in the violence, which has ranged from assaults on police stations to knife attacks on train travelers.

Uighur activists say the violence is being fuelled by restrictive and discriminatory policies and practices directed at Uighurs and a sense that the benefits of economic growth have largely accrued to Chinese migrants while excluding Uighurs.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the overseas-based World Uyghur Congress, said in a statement related to the latest incident: "China's allegations of a so-called terrorist attack are an excuse to cover up the excessive use of force."

He pointed to China's "hostile policies" in the region as having triggered unrest, without citing specifics.

Source: Agencies