Twenty-one people are dead in the far-west region of Xinjiang, China, following an attack involving axes, knives, a gun and a house burning down, Reuters reported on Wednesday. A government spokeswoman called it a “terrorist attack.”

The victims, who were killed on Tuesday, included local majority ethnic Han, minority ethnic Uighurs and police.

The government blamed Islamic separatist groups in the area, who reportedly want to break away from China and establish a country called East Turkestan, bordering Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

There has long been tension between the majority Han in the region and the minority Muslim Uighurs. The last outbreak of violence in July 2009 killed 200 people.

"The current situation in Xinjiang is good, but a small group of terrorist forces is still trying every possible means to disturb and destroy the present stability and trend of development in Xinjiang," a government spokeswoman told reporters.

The spokeswoman said three community workers were “conducting regular checks” when they were jumped by Uighur rioters wielding axes and large knives.

So far, eight people have been detained for questioning, the spokeswoman said.

A spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress disputed the Chinese version of the story, saying the violence started when a “Chinese armed personnel” shot a young Uighur.