On October 1, Uzbek President Islam Karimov inspected his troops in the Ferghana Region’s Sokh district, which abuts on the theater of operations of Islamic guerrillas in the Batken district of Kyrgyzstan’s Osh Region. After conferring with the joint command of Uzbek army, border and internal affairs troops, Karimov publicly urged Kyrgyzstan to act more resolutely against the rebels and to undertake a decisive offensive now, before the imminent first snowfall. He warned the neighboring country against allowing the insurgency to become protracted and to spill over into Uzbekistan. On the following day, a rebel group from Batken exchanged cross-border fire with an Uzbek unit near Sokh; this was the first known attack on Uzbek territory since the August outbreak of the insurgency. On October 2 and 3, Uzbek fighter-bomber planes attacked rebel positions–whether real or presumed–in Kyrgyzstan’s Batken district and in Tajikistan’s Jirgatal and Tajikabad districts. According to local Tajik sources, several civilian residents were killed and others were wounded in the air raids, which reached up to twenty-five kilometers inside Tajikistan and had not been authorized by that country’s government.
The Uzbek air attacks on Kyrgyz territory were, however, synchronized with an offensive operation of Kyrgyz troops on October 3-4. The troops retook two villages from the rebels by “storming”–and without any losses, according to official announcements. But the authorities were unable to report any rebel casualties, prisoners or trophies. This suggests that the insurgents avoided battle and relocated without incurring significant losses. The resumption of Uzbek air attacks is almost certainly due to Karimov’s pressure on his Kyrgyz counterpart Askar Akaev to authorize them again. Kyrgyzstan had withdrawn that authorization in late August after Uzbek pilots had inadvertently bombed and strafed Kyrgyz villages. Shortly afterward, Uzbek airplanes on an antirebel mission bombed and strafed Tajik villages in Jirgatal, prompting irate protests from both the Tajik government and the opposition.
The insurgents are believed to keep their Japanese and other captives in the Hoj-Achkan gorge, situated on the Kyrgyz side of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border, at some distance from the scene of the latest Kyrgyz-Uzbek offensive. The government of Kyrgyzstan, concerned to preserve the hostages’ lives and to retain Japanese goodwill, insists that Hoj-Achkan must remain out of bounds to air or ground attacks. The head of the human rights commission in Akaev’s administration, Tursunbai Bakiruulu (Bakirov), is holding talks in Afghanistan since September 26–presumably with expatriate leaders of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)–on the terms for the release of the hostages. Bakiruulu took over as principal negotiator from Tursunbek Akunov, chairman of Kyrgyzstan’s nongovernmental commission for human rights, who now assists Bakiruulu. Although the latter is a state–and indeed presidential–official, official Bishkek claims that he represents “Kyrgyz public opinion” and that the talks do not affect the government’s position “never to negotiate a deal with the terrorists.”
Government officials reported yesterday that Bakiruulu and rebel representatives have reached a preliminary agreement whereby the rebels will “not be the first to open fire” on government troops for the duration of a week; and may, within the week, release all hostages in “small batches,” with the four Japanese geologists to be released last. There is, as yet, no word about Kyrgyzstan’s quid-pro-quo. The rebels have been demanding monetary ransom, recognition as a legitimate opposition force in Uzbekistan, free passage to that country and the release of Islamists held in Uzbek prisons. The Kyrgyz authorities have all along rejected these terms (Itar-Tass, KyrgyzHabar, Uzbek Television, Kyodo, October 1-4; see the Monitor, August 24-31, September 1, 3, 7, 9, 14, 21, 24, 29 and the Fortnight in Review, September 24).
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