Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 155

Kyrgyz troops and Uzbek counterinsurgency units are battling the Islamic guerrillas entrenched since August 21 in three villages in the Batken district of the Osh Region in southern Kyrgyzstan (see the Monitor, August 24). Both sides have suffered casualties in the stalemate. Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev yesterday dismissed his defense minister, Colonel-General Myrzakan Subanov, for “failure” in his mission to defeat the guerrillas. Some officials in Bishkek, Tashkent and Dushanbe now profess to estimate the size of the guerilla force at up to 1,000, rather than the figure of 200 which was being offered until yesterday. Bishkek and Tashkent–but not Dushanbe–claim, furthermore, that several hundred Islamic guerrillas in Tajikistan have moved to the Kyrgyz and Uzbek borders, poised to invade. According to various Central Asian officials, the Islamic detachment now fighting in Kyrgyzstan is made up of Uzbeks, Tajiks and Afghans of Pushtun ethnicity and some of them underwent training in Afghanistan. These assertions are not inherently implausible, but may exaggerate the multinational character of the challenge as a way to mobilize a collective response from the Central Asian countries.

Kyrgyz and Uzbek government officials and military commanders seem to hesitate–or differ–over the primary objective of their operation in Batken. Some seek to crush the guerillas outright while others prefer negotiations for release of hostages. Among the hostages are the commander of Kyrgyzstan’s Internal Affairs Ministry troops (Major-General Anarbek Shamkeev), four Japanese mining specialists and several Kyrgyz civilians and soldiers. The Uzbek government seems on balance to favor an all-out assault on the guerillas, while the Kyrgyz side seems to lean toward negotiation, based on a precedent set on August 13. In that case, Bishkek ransomed four officials who had been seized by an advance group of Islamic raiders in the Osh region. In the current case, the government in Tokyo and Japanese diplomats in Central Asia are strongly urging Bishkek to negotiate the release of the four Japanese. The rebels, however, are not known to have set conditions for releasing the captives.

Some officials in several Central Asian capitals surmise that the militants seek merely to use Kyrgyzstan’s Osh Region as a corridor for penetrating Uzbekistan’s part of the Ferghana Valley and ignite a pro-Islamic rebellion there.

Tashkent is accusing Dushanbe of having tolerated sanctuaries of Uzbek Islamic militants in Tajikistan as part of its accommodation with the United Tajik Opposition (UTO). Those militants form the core of the force which has entered Kyrgyzstan and raided Uzbekistan in recent days. The Tajik government retorts, first, that its troops, jointly with UTO forces–now integrated with the government troops–have actually pressured the Uzbek guerrillas into leaving Tajikistan and, second, that Dushanbe had forewarned the neighboring countries about the guerilla’s movements. The charges illustrate Uzbekistan’s attempts to pressure official Dushanbe into breaking the accommodation with the Islamic opposition. The response reflects the Tajik government’s and opposition’s shared interest in staying out of Uzbekistan’s orbit. Official Dushanbe, while differing with the opposition on fundamental issues including Islam, is refuting Tashkent’s charges that the Tajik opposition had sponsored the Uzbek militants’ bases in Tajikistan or that UTO members joined those militants (Itar-Tass, Radio Dushanbe, Reuters, AP, Kyodo, August 23-24).

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