Bermuda's four Uighur refugees say they are praying for a swift and peaceful resolution to the violence, which erupted in their homeland this week.

Hundreds of protesters were killed and police were accused of firing on demonstrators during a series of bloody street battles in northwest China.

The quartet, released from Guantanamo Bay last month, said they were 'very sad and sorrowful' to hear of the rioting which has left at least 156 dead.

The Chinese Government has claimed Uighur protesters armed with knives, bricks and batons went on the rampage, smashing shops and homes and fighting with security forces.

But eyewitness reports have suggested that the uprising was brutally put down by armed police who sprayed tear gas into crowds that had amassed on the streets of Urumqi, the capital of the troubled Xinjiang region.

Some witnesses claimed that cops opened fire on students outside Xinjiang University.

Khalid Mamut, one of the Guantanamo prisoners now living in Bermuda, said he had tried to contact family and friends back home but a communications blackout had prevented him from getting through.

He and his 'brothers' - frustrated observers from their ocean side guest house in Hamilton Parish - have been restricted to a drip-feed of news reports from the BBC and from their interpreter Rushan Abbas, who has been at the World Uighur Congress in Germany.

Even the international news media have been unable to obtain accurate, independent verification of how the violence began and who was killed because Chinese authorities have shut down mobile phone networks and the Internet.

And as Uighur groups worldwide suggested the death toll could be far higher than the official figures indicate, the four Chinese Muslims exiled in Bermuda said they were praying for an end to the bloodshed.

"We want people in Bermuda to know the situation of the Uighurs living under oppression in China.

"The Chinese Government have blamed extremism and terrorism but we are peaceful people," said Mr. Mamut.

Violence flared on Sunday after an estimated 3,000 people gathered in the streets of Urumqi to protest the killing of two Uighurs in an ethnic attack at a toy factory last month.

Chinese authorities claim the incident was just an excuse for foreign based separatist groups - agitating for independence for the mostly Muslim region - to incite their people to violent protest.

State TV showed protesters beating Han Chinese locals, who were pictured dazed with blood pouring from head wounds.

Chinese owned shops and homes were reported to been targeted in the first wave of violence sparking a series of retaliatory attacks against Uighur businesses.

The city was under curfew last night as military police attempted to regain control following the arrest of over 1,400 protesters.

Uighurs have charactarized the trouble as a vicious crackdown on a peaceful demonstration and called for those arrested to be released while human rights groups demanded an independent inquiry into claims of police brutality.

Ms Abbas, who is an active member of the World Uighur Congress, said it was typical Chinese propoganda to paint protesters as terrorists.

"It was a peaceful demonstration. The police handled it very harshly using tear gas and firearms against people with nothing but their hands."

She said a high-percentage of the dead were likely to be Uighurs and compared the scenes to the infamous massacre of student protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The Uighurs living in Bermuda were released from Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba last month after spending seven years in the high-security terror prison.

They were cleared of any wrongdoing but could not return to China for fear that they would be tortured and killed by the Government, which classifies them as terrorists because of their separatist beliefs.

They believe the latest violence - which has pushed their little-known cause on to the front pages of world newspapers once again - starkly demonstrates the plight of Uighurs in China and answers the questions many had been asking about why they had been unable to return home.

"This is why we left," said Mr. Mamut.

"We are happy to be free and grateful to be living in Bermuda but our happiness cannot be complete when we know the situation is so hard for Uighurs in Turkestan (their name for Xinjiang).

"We are here and we cannot help our people. All we can do is tell the situation to people and to other countries and hope that this can be solved legally and peacefully."