BEIJING - Chinese authorities said on Sunday 18 suspects had surrendered to police investigating an attack in the western region of Xinjiang that led to nearly 100 deaths, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Masked militants attacked government offices and a police station on July 28 in Shache county in southern Xinjiang and 37 civilians were killed, the regional government said, adding that security forces gunned down 59 "terrorists" following the attack.
Citing local officials, Xinhua said most of the suspects were not "diehard terrorists" but had been "cheated or coerced" into joining the attack. It said they surrendered under intense pressure from the public after authorities called for tip-offs from local citizens.
Abdulkeyum Abdukhadir, an official from the Shache public security bureau, said suspects still at large should give themselves up, and would be granted a lighter sentence, Xinhua said.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, said in emailed comments that the "so-called surrenders" were made in order to avoid death at the hands of armed Chinese police. He called on China to protect the"dignity" of the suspects.
China has blamed Islamist separatists for the violence that has repeatedly erupted in Xinjiang, home to Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people. But exiled Uighur organisations and human rights groups say discrimination and repression have stoked unrest.
In July, authorities in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi banned bus passengers from carrying items like cigarette lighters and water bottles in a bid to prevent attacks.
The city of Karamay also said it has banned people with head scarves, veils and long beards from boarding buses.