Kyrgyzstan observed its national day yesterday and Uzbekistan is observing its own today in the shadow of the Islamic rebel raid–spearheaded by Uzbek militants–inside Kyrgyzstan near the countries’ common border. The observances in Bishkek were scaled down to a minimum amid elaborate security measures. Russian President Boris Yeltsin telephoned Presidents Askar Akaev and Islam Karimov yesterday, not simply to congratulate them but to discuss the situation and joint countermeasures. Official reports suggest that the Yeltsin-Karimov conversation was marked by a cordiality and sense of common purpose long absent from Uzbek-Russian relations. Tashkent’s official reports, departing from practice, omitted any mention of the chronic differences on many issues between Tashkent and Moscow. Russia’s defense minister, Marshal Igor Sergeev, is due to discuss the military situation today in Tashkent.
In Moscow yesterday, Kyrgyzstan’s First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Silaev and the newly appointed defense minister, Esen Topoev, held talks at Russia’s Defense Ministry and security agencies, as well as with Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin–himself a former intelligence chief. Silaev and Topoev indicated that Kyrgyz forces are short of such basics as infantry weapons, transport vehicles and even uniforms. Russia’s General Staff has been tasked to lead the preparation of an interagency plan of assistance to Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan against the insurgency in the three countries’ border area.
With Uzbek antirebel air sorties suspended by order of the Kyrgyz government (see the Monitor, August 31), Kazakhstan’s Defense Ministry yesterday offered to place its tactical aviation at Kyrgyzstan’s disposal. The proposal supplements earlier Kazakh offers to send arms and volunteers for combat duty in Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyz authorities yesterday reported exchanges of fire between its forces and the guerrillas, with unspecified losses on “both sides.” Those exchanges are likely to be skirmishes, rather than full-scale combat, since the authorities themselves admit to being poorly informed on a day-to-day basis about the rebels’ exact whereabouts. The authorities also admitted yesterday, for the first time, that individual local residents act as agents for the rebels; one such resident was caught spying for the insurgents and trying to smuggle wounded militants back into Tajikistan.
The government is attempting through village elders to negotiate with the rebels about the release of captives. The insurgents have released four captured policemen and four civilian hostages in return for cows and sacks of flour. Such tidbits suggest that the insurgent hold some sanctuaries where they can use the goods received. Kyrgyzstan keeps reassuring Japan that the release of the four Japanese geologists, held hostage by the rebels, constitutes Bishkek’s top priority in this crisis. Uzbekistan for one considers that using full force to crush the rebels now should take precedence over other considerations (Itar-Tass, Hovar, Tashkent Radio, Kyodo, AP, Reuters, August 30-31).
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