In early August, Islamic militants from Tajikistan kidnapped a mayor and three security officers in Kyrgyzstan’s Osh region opposite the Tajik border. Kyrgyz troops and helicopters sent in pursuit failed to even locate the militants, let alone engage them. On August 15 at the request of the Kyrgyz government, Uzbek Su-24 airplanes bombed and strafed the militants’ presumed hideouts in that mountain area. Four of those planes strayed over the border, dropping bombs on Tajikistan’s Garm and Jirgatal districts, strongholds of the United Tajik Opposition and more radical Islamic groups. The Tajik government lost no time protesting in sharpest terms against the Uzbek air raid, notwithstanding that it had claimed to target the Tajik government’s enemies. On August 19, in a statement to his parliament, Uzbek President Islam Karimov retorted that the Tajik government is unable to control its own territory. If Dushanbe can not eliminate Islamic armed groups in Tajikistan, Karimov admonished, it should request international assistance. On the same day, however, a statement by Russia’s Foreign Ministry criticized Uzbekistan for violating Tajikistan’s sovereignty.
On August 22, Kyrgyzstan’s defense minister, Myrzakan Subanov, proclaimed that the Islamist intruders had been successfully rooted out. But on the same day and again on the following one, two armed groups from Tajikistan, apparently totaling several hundred, struck again in the Batken district of Kyrgyzstan’s Osh region. They took over three villages, treating the residents as virtual hostages. The militants promptly captured the commander of Kyrgyzstan’s Internal Affairs Ministry troops, Major-General Anarbek Shamkeev, and seized four Japanese mining specialists working on a gold prospecting project financed by Japan’s International Cooperation Agency in Kyrgyzstan. The raiders seem primarily interested in stocking up on food supplies and possibly preparing bases ahead of winter, which comes early in those high-altitude areas.
The Kyrgyz government is sending in more of its pathetically weak troops and has requested Uzbek and Tajik military support. The state security ministers of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan met yesterday at an-as-yet-undisclosed location to plan and coordinate joint actions. The defense ministers of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan met also yesterday in Hujand, the administrative center of Tajikistan’s Leninabad Region, largely inhabited by ethnic Uzbeks. Significantly, the Uzbek defense minister was not reported to have attended, most likely because Tajikistan had objected to his attendance. Hujand seems in any case an unsafe place for officials: One day before the ministers’ meeting, the head of the region’s tax inspectorate was assassinated in broad daylight in the city center.
On August 23, another armed group struck in a mountain area of Uzbekistan. Having apparently infiltrated from Kyrgyzstan, that group seized an installation officially described as a “meteorological station” but which had ample food and fuel supplies. According to most official accounts, the detachments involved in these raids consist of a mixture of Uzbeks, Tajiks and Kyrgyz. Officials tend to lay most of the blame on the followers of Juma Namangani, the Uzbek Islamic militant wanted on criminal charges in Uzbekistan, and whose detachment has operated–or hidden away–mostly in Tajikistan and Afghanistan in the last few years. Namangani’s followers, as well as some irreconcilable fighters of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), are said to be moving from Tajikistan into Kyrgyzstan and apparently even Uzbekistan in the wake of the inter-Tajik ceasefire and the absorption of most UTO guerrillas into Tajik government forces (Itar-Tass, Asia-Plus, Reuters, AP, Radios Tashkent, Bishkek and Dushanbe, August 17-23).
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