Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 173

Breaking a two-week lull, the Islamic insurgents attacked Kyrgyz government troops from September 17 to 20 in the most intense clashes since the August 22 start of the rebellion. The rebels entered a third district–Kadamazhai–while holding on to their positions in the Batken and Chon-Alai districts of the Osh Region. Advance rebel patrols were sighted deeper inside the Osh Region. A rebel detachment also came within four kilometers of the Uzbek border in this mountainous area where the borders of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan intersect.

Kyrgyz troops admitted to losing ten killed and fourteen wounded in four clashes though the government was unable to provide a body count or any plausible count of rebel losses. The government troops’ losses include reservists with Soviet military experience in Afghanistan–the only valuable human resource in the Kyrgyz military. Of the four encounters, one was a rebel ambush, and the other three, rebel-initiated attacks on fixed positions of government troops. Both sides used grenade launchers as their heaviest weapon in these clashes. A 200-strong rebel detachment arrived from Tajikistan to join the fighting, but it is not clear whether this unit is a fresh reinforcement or a part of the original, 1000-strong invasion force, elements of which use sanctuaries in Tajik territory for rest and recovery.

These latest developments suggest that the insurgents hold the tactical initiative, that Kyrgyz troops have been unable to bring artillery to the theater of action after one month of hostilities, that the insurgents are able to move freely across the Tajik-Kyrgyz border, and that rebel units are unable to break through to Uzbekistan (but may be able to infiltrate there).

In recent days, for the first time since the beginning of the crisis, some Kyrgyz officials suggested that the government itself negotiate with the rebels to ransom the four Japanese geologists, the commander of Kyrgyz interior troops and other hostages and captives. Foreign Minister Muratbek Imanaliev argued on September 17 that the insurgents had been motivated “not by political objectives, but by financial ones” in seizing the Japanese and other hostages, and that “the gunmen are using the hostages as a commodity to be sold for profit.” This interpretation, which must have shocked hardliners all the way from Moscow to Tashkent, appears designed to support the idea of direct negotiations between the government and the rebels with a view to ransoming the hostages. Imanaliev’s position is clearly influenced by Japan, a top donor to and investor in Kyrgyzstan: The foreign minister mentioned in his statement that he is informing the Japanese government about the hostage situation on a daily basis. Kyrgyz human rights official Tursunbai Bakirov, for his part, called openly on the government “urgently to sit down at the negotiating table with the gunmen’s leaders” to obtain the release of the hostages. The official, identified as head of the Human Rights Commission attached to President Askar Akaev’s administration, urged the government to follow the example of Russia’s Aleksandr Lebed and Boris Berezovsky, who during their tenures on Russia’s Security Council negotiated with Chechen commanders and ransomed Russian hostages out of Chechen captivity (Itar-Tass, KyrgyzHabar, Kyodo, September 17-20; see the Monitor, August 24-31, September 1, 3, 7, 9, 14).