BISHKEK, June 30: A high-ranking Chinese diplomat has been assassinated in the capital of Kyrgyzstan in a gun attack possibly linked to Muslim Uighur separatists, a Kyrgyz government official told AFP on Sunday.

The Chinese consul and his driver were gunned down in the centre of Bishkek late on Saturday, said interior ministry official, Omurbek Egemberdiyev.

“We have not ruled out that it is Uighur separatists drawing attention to themselves once again,” the official added.

He was referring to a separatist group that was founded in the early 1990s in the Xingjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region of western China with the aim of creating a fundamentalist Muslim state called East Turkestan.

It is now based mainly in the neighbouring Central Asian states of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Eyewitnesses saw two young men carry out the murder, firing with a pistol at the diplomat’s Mercedes at around 8pm, according to the interior ministry.

The assailants then fled in another car.

The Chinese embassy could not be reached for comment.

Four Uighur separatists are appealing death sentences after being convicted for an attack on a Chinese delegation from Xingjiang visiting Bishkek in May, 2000, in which two Chinese officials were shot dead and another wounded.

In March, 2000, the head of the Uighur community in Kyrgyzstan, Nigmat Bazakov, was assassinated, according to Kyrygz officials for refusing to back the Uighur separatist group, called Shark Azatlyk Tashkilaty (SAT), or Organisation for the Liberation of the East.

A court in Kyrgyzstan in January condemned to death for Bazakov’s murder an Uzbek extremist fighting alongside Uighur separatists.

Kyrgyz law enforcement sources said that in the spring of this year they foiled a plot by two Uighurs to kill a Chinese diplomat, and handed them over to the authorities in China.—AFP

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