UN anti-terror official makes controversial trip to Xinjiang

BEIJING (AP) — The U.N. counterterrorism chief visited Xinjiang last week despite protests from the U.S. and a rights group that the trip would be inappropriate in light of the human rights conditions in China’s far west region.

Vladimir Ivanovich Voronkov traveled to Beijing and Xinjiang from Thursday to Saturday last week, said a statement Sunday from the Chinese foreign ministry. Voronkov and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng exchanged views on international counterterrorism efforts and reached “broad consensus,” the statement said.

The U.S., researchers and rights groups estimate that as many as 1 million ethnic Muslims may be arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang, home to the Uighur and Kazakh minority groups.

Former detainees have told The Associated Press that they were held without charge in “reeducation centers” where they were forced to denounce their faith and pledge loyalty to the ruling Communist Party. The Chinese government denies there is widespread abuse in these centers, which it says are vocational training schools aimed at combatting extremism and helping Xinjiang residents gain employable skills.

In a conversation with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan conveyed “deep concerns” about Voronkov’s visit.

“Beijing continues to paint its repressive campaign against Uighurs and other Muslims as legitimate counterterrorism efforts when it is not,” Sullivan said, adding that Voronkov was putting the U.N.’s reputation and credibility at risk “by lending credence to these false claims.”

Human Rights Watch said Friday the U.N. should have sent a human rights expert instead of a counterterrorism official.

China’s foreign ministry did not provide details of Voronkov’s trip to Xinjiang.

“Counterterrorism cannot be linked to specific countries, ethnic groups and religions,” the ministry said in its Sunday statement. “It cannot adopt ‘double standards.’ China supports the U.N. in playing a central coordination role in international counterterrorism affairs.”

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