At least five people have died after being attacked by three knife-wielding men in China's restive region of Xinjiang on Tuesday (14 February), mainland media reported. Local police shot dead the attackers whom the regional government called "thugs".

The incident took place in Pishan county, which is located in the southern part of Xinjiang province. It is reported to be the latest bout of violence on China's far western border with Central Asia.

"At present, social order is normal at the site, society is stable, and investigation work is under way," the government of Hotan prefecture said as it confirmed the deaths on Wednesday. It, however, did not give any details about the attackers or their motive.

Five other people were also injured in the attack. There are conflicting reports on the number of deaths, with local media putting the number of dead at eight and the government confirming the death of five people.

The latest incident was described by Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uighur Congress exile group, as Chinese repression. He said there was no way for people to show peaceful dissent.

"Any provocation could lead to a clash," Reuters cited him as saying.

Discord between the authorities and the indigenous Uighur community in China's far west goes back a long way. China has often been accused of trying to suppress the Uighurs, an allegation the government has strongly denied.

Hundreds of people are reported to have died in Xinjiang in recent years in violence between members of the ethnic minority and China's majority Han community. But the communist government blamed the unrest on Islamist militants and separatists. However, rights groups have argued the violence is a reaction to China's harsh policies.

Xinjiang shares its border with Central Asia, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Uighurs consider themselves culturally and ethnically related to Turkey and are mostly followers of Islam. They are the largest group of Muslims in China and speak a language that is close to Turkish. Hundreds of them fled China as the government reportedly ignored recognising their culture and language.

In December, a car carrying several terror suspects rammed into a government building and set off explosives. One person was killed in the attack and police shot dead four assailants.