Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 157
The insurgents yesterday entered a further district–Chon-Alai–of Kyrgyzstan’s Osh Region, in which they control part of the Batken district since August 22 (see the Monitor, August 24-26). In Chon-Alai the guerrillas captured without combat a twenty-strong Kyrgyz military unit, raising to nearly 100 the number of captives they hold. The U.S. State Department, which made that figure public yesterday, condemned “such acts of terrorism [as] a threat to the stability of all of Central Asia,” but at the same time urged the governments of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to “do their utmost to resolve the situation peacefully and with as much restraint as possible.” That recommendation would seem to defer to Japan’s concern for the lives of four Japanese geologists in rebel hands (see below). But the recommendation may well also reflect Washington’s concern to avert a bludgeon-type military solution which might ultimately play into the Islamic militants’ hands.
Kyrgyz troops yesterday continued futile attacks and pursuit operations against the rebels, while Uzbek assault airplanes bombed and strafed presumed rebel positions in the Batken and Chon-Alai districts. Approximately 3,000 residents have fled the Batken district–the first clear sign of a refugee problem in the unfolding crisis. Senior Kyrgyz officials suppose that growing numbers of guerrillas are entering the country from Tajikistan. The approximately 1,000 already in Kyrgyzstan are–according to the officials–equipped with machine guns and grenade-launchers, night-vision devices and mobile telephones through which they liaise with bases in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Kyrgyz officials insist that the rebel force is multinational, made up of Islamic militants from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pushtun areas of Afghanistan.
The Kyrgyz military, weak in the first place, is further handicapped by difficulties of access to this distant theater of operations. Yesterday Kazakhstan’s Defense Ministry publicly offered to send troops and equipment if the Kyrgyz government requests such aid. But the Kazakh military now seems shaken from within as a result of a corruption investigation which has affected the top brass. Ironically, it was Japan who pressed for that investigation shortly before the Kyrgyz crisis, as it transpired that top Kazakh officers may have been involved in an illicit sale of MiG-21 airplanes to North Korea.
Yesterday, Japan’s state secretary for foreign affairs, Keizo Takemi, currently in Bishkek, implied publicly that Tokyo is prepared to send its commandos on an operation to rescue the Japanese hostages. Japanese ministries and other government agencies have set up a twenty-strong crisis headquarters in Bishkek to handle the hostage situation. Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, in telephone contact from Tokyo with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, is urging him to use cautious tactics in order to preserve the Japanese hostages’ lives. Uzbekistan, on the other hand, prefers to crush the insurgency quickly and at any cost, so as to preclude its possible spread into the Ferghana Valley. Akaev’s government is thus caught between conflicting priorities: those of a major investor and donor country and those of a key military ally.
The rebels are generally, and on valid grounds, described as Islamic militants. However, indications to that effect during their current operation are scant: two green flags hoisted in villages they control (Itar-Tass, Kyodo, Xinhua, Khabar, Reuters, AP, August 25-26).
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