WASHINGTON, March 31, 2006

The United States pressed China Friday for a probe into claims by the Falun Gong spiritual group that thousands of its followers at Chinese concentration camps have been killed and their organs harvested and sold.

"The Chinese have publicly denied the allegations. We've made the point that a further investigation would be helpful. We urge that it be done," deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters.

"Well, obviously, any such reports are taken very seriously by us. We haven't been able to confirm them. We have contacted the government of China about them," Ereli said.

Asked whether the United States had suggested any international investigation, he said: "No, we've raised it with the Chinese and urged them to investigate."

The Falun Gong spiritual movement had alleged that as many as 75 percent of its 6,000 followers held in a state-run camp in the Sujiatun district of the northern Chinese city of Shenyang had been cremated after they were killed and their organs harvested and sold.

In a statement Friday, the movement, quoting "a veteran medical doctor who has served in the Shenyang military zone," said there were 36 such camps and that "the scope of the problem far exceeds that previously imagined."

The largest camp, codenamed "672-S," is said to hold over 120,000 people, among whom are Falun Gong and other "prisoners of conscience," it said.

There has been no independent confirmation of the Falun Gong reports.

The Chinese communist leadership consider the rise of Falun Gong as a mass movement and a threat to its power, rights groups have said.

Since the banning of the Falun Gong in 1999, estimates of adherents who died in custody due to torture, abuse and neglect ranged from several hundred to a few thousand, according to the State Department annual human rights report released in early March.

In addition to being sentenced to reeducation-through-labor camps, some Falun Gong members were sent to detention facilities specifically established to "rehabilitate" practitioners who refused to recant their belief voluntarily after release from the camps, it said.