On September 4, Islamic rebels in Kyrgyzstan abandoned without combat four out of the five villages they had controlled in the Batken and Chon-Alai districts of Kyrgyzstan’s Osh Region. A part of the rebel force, however, holds on to the strategic Haji-Achkan gorge and village in the Batken area. Officials of the Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Tajik governments lack reliable information regarding the whereabouts of other rebel units. Some Kyrgyz and Uzbek officials claim that those unaccounted-for have withdrawn into the contiguous Jirgatal district of Tajikistan–a claim rejected by Tajik government and opposition representatives alike. Other officials surmise that the rebels have simply decided to relocate within the Osh Region as a matter of routine guerrilla tactics. Local residents report that the rebels pay above-market prices for food supplies, maintain contacts with village elders, and behave reassuringly in the hope of winning sympathies among the populace.
Kyrgyz government officials, speaking for the benefit of Uzbekistan, rule out any “negotiations” with the rebels. The same officials, speaking for the benefit of Japan, indicate that “unofficial contacts” with the rebels are being stepped up in the hope of obtaining the release of hostages, who include four Japanese geologists and the commander of Kyrgyz internal affairs troops. Some Kyrgyz officials allude to the possibility of paying ransom to the rebels in order to save the hostages, as was done in a precedent-setting case last month. In that case, Bishkek paid US$50,000 to a rebel group for the release of four Kyrgyz officials. Meanwhile, Japan has beefed up its interagency delegation in Bishkek which coordinates actions aimed at obtaining the release of the hostages. The delegation now consists of more than thirty officials sent from Tokyo, another group detailed from Japan’s Moscow embassy, and a third, roving group currently in Tajikistan, urging both the government and the opposition to assist a region-wide effort to secure the release of the hostages.
A hitherto unknown rebel group released yesterday six employees of Uzbekistan’s state travel agency, who had been seized on August 21 on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. The six, who include ethnic Uzbeks and Russians, reported that they had been treated “tolerably,” but that the rebels attempted to persuade the Russian members of the group to convert to Islam.
The rebels meanwhile seek to capitalize on the differences between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan while at the same time multiplying their political demands on the latter country. In two communications to Bishkek, a rebel commander states that the insurgents are waging a Jihad [Islamic holy war] against Uzbekistan only, and that it demands from Kyrgyzstan nothing more than free passage to Uzbekistan. Deploring “Kyrgyzstan’s shortsightedness” in denying that passage, the statement calls for formal negotiations toward a deal which could involve free passage in return for the release of hostages. The rebel commander is variously identified as Tahmir Faruk or Azirsham, and is described as a deputy to the Uzbek fundamentalist leader Juma Namangani.
In Moscow, the largely idle CIS Headquarters for the Coordination of Military Cooperation has set up an operational group on military-technical assistance to Kyrgyzstan. Nominally headed by Kyrgyzstan’s deputy chief of staff, Major-General Rashid Urazmatov, the group consists of military representatives of those CIS countries which are parties to the Collective Security Treaty. There is no official word yet as to whether Uzbekistan participates in the operational group’s work. Uzbekistan has abandoned the Collective Security Treaty, but Moscow seeks to exploit the current crisis with a view to pulling Uzbekistan back into line.
In a September 6 statement, Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry urged foreign countries and public opinion “to refrain from overdramatizing the situation,” and appealed to international organizations–including the Islamic Conference Organization (ICO) and its member countries–to condemn the rebels’ actions as “international terrorism” and to lean on them to “cease their attempts at pressuring Kyrgyzstan.” The statement noted that the overall situation remains stable and that the safety of foreign citizens “is guaranteed, particularly in Bishkek” (Itar-Tass, Krasnaya zvezda, Kyrgyzhabar, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Mashhad), Kyodo, AP, Reuters, September 3-6).
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