(Reuters) - The United Nations is holding "serious negotiations" with China for unfettered access to the Xinjiang region to verify reports that Muslim Uighurs are being persecuted, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a CBC interview broadcast on Sunday.
The UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said last month that reports of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, sexual violence and forced labor in Xinjiang necessitated a thorough and independent assessment.
In February, Bachelet said talks to organize a visit had begun but no agreement has yet been reached.
Bachelet's visit "is being negotiated at the present moment between the office of the High Commissioner and the Chinese authorities," Guterres said in an interview aired on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp's Rosemary Barton Live show.
"And I hope that they will reach an agreement soon and that the human rights commissioner will be able to visit China without restrictions or limitations," he added.
China's sensitivity to criticism of its treatment of the Uighur minority was underscored on Saturday when it announced targeted sanctions against two American religious-rights officials and a Canadian lawmaker who had denounced Beijing's treatment of them and other minorities.
Activists have expressed skepticism about the prospects for a meaningful visit with unfettered access in China.
The Chinese government denies any mistreatment and has said that people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang and the Tibetan region enjoy wide-ranging freedoms.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)