Breaking a five-day lull in the fighting, insurgents attacked Kyrgyz government troops during the night of September 27-28 in the Kadamazhai district, attempting to break into neighboring Uzbekistan. According to the Kyrgyz command, its troops repulsed the all-night attack and continue blocking the Islamic rebels’ access to Kyrgyz and Uzbek areas of the Ferghana Valley. The two governments are now indicating that they expect to confine the rebels to their mountain hideouts for the duration of the winter. Such a goal amounts to an admission that the conflict has acquired a protracted character.
The long-promised and urgently needed Russian military supplies seem to elude the badly equipped Kyrgyz troops. Unnamed military officials had reported last week the arrival of a first consignment on September 22–just one planeload, four weeks after Kyrgyzstan had requested massive supplies and Moscow had pledged to provide them. But on September 27, the commander of Kyrgyz troops in the conflict zone, Lieutenant-General Abdygul Chotbaev, categorically stated on national radio that no supplies had arrived from Russia as yet, and that only Uzbekistan has sent some military supplies. Apparently, Moscow is letting Kyrgyzstan stew in its own juice, so as to maximize the insecurity of the region’s states–especially Uzbekistan–and try drawing them into defense and security arrangements with Moscow.
Kyrgyzstan’s Security Council Secretary, Bolot Januzakov, complained yesterday that the rebels are receiving manpower reinforcements and ammunition and food supplies from Tajikistan’s adjacent mountainous Jirgatal district, where no authority is in control. Januzakov warned the rebels that they face destruction unless they release the hostages and “leave the territory of Kyrgyzstan.” This public statement reveals the terms of the deal that Bishkek seeks to conclude with the rebels. The first condition defers to Japan’s top priority–freeing its citizens from captivity (see below). More intriguing is the accompanying condition, which implies that Kyrgyzstan would be content–or, perhaps, is desperate–to see the rebels return to sanctuaries in Tajikistan. This offer amounts to a tit-for-tat response to the Tajik government and opposition, both of which had deliberately allowed the rebels to move into Kyrgyzstan in August in the hope of ridding Tajikistan of their presence. The prospect of their return to Tajikistan would embarrass the opposition, outrage the government, and provoke a military response from Uzbekistan–the country which constitutes the main target of the mainly Uzbek rebels.
Tashkent is already hinting at a possible military intervention. On September 24, the Kyrgyz government revealed excerpts from a letter just sent by Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who stated that “the Uzbek armed forces are prepared to come in at the very first call and give fraternal Kyrgyzstan all the assistance it needs for wiping out the terrorist formations.” On September 27, Uzbekistan’s defense minister, Colonel-General Hikmatulla Tursunov, returning from the combat zone on the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border, stated on national television that Uzbek forces are prepared to strike rebel sanctuaries both “nearby” and “in the other places”–meaning the sanctuaries in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, respectively.
Leaks from Russian intelligence sources, suggesting that small insurgent groups have managed to infiltrate Uzbekistan from Kyrgyzstan, have not been confirmed and must be treated skeptically. But the Uzbek authorities are taking no chances. The cabinet of ministers yesterday issued a special decision on “Measures to Maintain Public Order in Tashkent and the Regions of Uzbekistan.” This and other government decisions provide for: strengthening the protection of official buildings and infrastructure installations by security forces; stepping up identity checks in public places; and sealing the basements and attics of public and private residential housing, so as to prevent their use by subversive groups. By government order, all regional and local authorities assist in the implementation of these measures under the oversight of security officials.
The Kyrgyz government for its part seeks negotiations with the Uzbek government’s archenemy, Tahir Yuldash, leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). That group participates in the insurgency on Kyrgyz territory and is believed to have connections with the Taliban authorities of Afghanistan. Two Kyrgyz envoys–one of them unofficial, the other official–are attempting to meet with Yuldash in order to discuss terms for the release of hostages and captives, including the four Japanese geologists, the commander of Kyrgyz internal affairs troops and at least four Kyrgyz officers. The envoys are holding talks since September 25-26 in Islamabad, hoping through Pakistani good offices to reach the Taliban and, through the latter, Yuldash for a meeting on Afghan territory. The Japanese government is encouraging this complex negotiating effort. But the Taliban authorities’ initial reaction is to deny any links with Yuldash and the IMU (Itar-Tass, KyrgyzHabar, Vecherny Bishkek, Uzbek Radio and Television, Kyodo, September 24-28; see the Monitor, August 24-27, 30-31, September 1, 3, 7, 9, 14, 21, 24; and The Fortnight in Review, September 24).
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