Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 190

On October 12 and 13, Kyrgyz government troops seized the vast Hoj-Achkan Gorge and the eponymous village, apparently the last stronghold of the Islamic, mainly Uzbek rebels in Kyrgyzstan. The military operation featured air strikes by L-39 planes which were described as Kyrgyz, though the country had not until now been known to have an air force. The Kyrgyz ground troops under Lieutenant-General Abdygul Chotbaev encountered virtually no resistance in entering Hoj-Achkan. Hundreds of rebels were seen heading for the Kyrgyz-Tajik border with the apparent intention to cross into Tajikistan’s Jirgatal district, which lies beyond the writ of either the Tajik government or the opposition. A detachment of up to 200 rebels holds out on the Kyrgyz side of the border.

For the first time since the outbreak of the crisis, a Kyrgyz official–Security Council Secretary Bolot Januzakov–yesterday raised the possibility that Kyrgyz troops might cross the border into Tajikistan in “hot pursuit” of the rebels. The warning fits in with Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s line, departing from that being followed by the Kyrgyz government in deference to Japan, which urges restraint in order to save the lives of Japanese hostages in rebel hands. In a sign of continuing acrimony between Tashkent and Bishkek, Karimov canceled at the last moment a visit he was to have paid to the Kyrgyz capital on October 12. Karimov set no substitute date and provided no explanation for the cancellation. But he did hint at the reasons behind it in a televised statement: “I personally am fed up with a situation in which I depend on how and when the Kyrgyz leadership will take determined actions to neutralize and stamp out those bandits. I guess the Kyrgyz are following the tactics of pushing them back. Bandits should be destroyed, rather than being pushed back, they must literally be destroyed.”

The rebels meanwhile released five Kyrgyz officers whom they had captured in the last decade of August. The officers arrived safe and sound yesterday at the Kyrgyz forces’ headquarters in Batken, escorted by presidential adviser Tursunbai Bakiruulu who obtained their release through negotiations with rebel representatives in Afghanistan. Januzakov and other Kyrgyz officials insist that the release was unconditional and that Bishkek made “no deal with terrorists.” Precedent suggests otherwise, however: In August, Bishkek ransomed several security officers from the Uzbek insurgents on their first raid into Kyrgyzstan from Tajikistan.

The rebels continue holding the four Japanese geologists, a Kyrgyz general and some other hostages, either in Kyrgyz or—by now–in Tajik territory. Bakiruulu yesterday urged the government publicly to authorize him to negotiate with the rebels for the release of those hostages. An official message from the Japanese government also pleaded for that course of action. In Bishkek meanwhile, an extraordinary session of the Assembly of People’s Representatives adopted legislation proposed by President Askar Akaev to set up a new administrative region made up of Batken and other districts. This region will be administered as a buffer zone against rebels intruding from Tajikistan-or from Afghanistan via Tajikistan (Itar-Tass, KyrgyzHabar, Tashkent Television, Kyodo, October 10-13; see the Monitor, October 12).

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